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The War on Drugs, and Ultimate Drugs: Wealth, Power and Political Influence


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By:  George Michael Newman, CFE, CCDI, CII


(An earlier reviewer of this article thought it seemed to be an editorial espousing legalization or decriminalization of drugs. In fact, this is not its intent, as attention to the detail of the words chosen in various portions of the piece should reveal. Greater mind’s than that of the author must create any realized solution. However, certain undeniable realities weave themselves amongst the panorama/constellation of ‘the drug world’ in blunt format, and denial or ignorance on the part of an investigator invites assessment errors. In abstract form, in context with any set of circumstances, what is revealed here is applicable in any country or segment of society.)

“Gangs have been a major contributor to the growth of violent crime in the past decade. Heavily armed with sophisticated weapons, gangs are involved in drug trafficking, murder, witness intimidation, robbery, extortion, and turf battles. Gangs now operate in cities of all sizes, as well as suburban communities throughout the United States; gang violence is no longer limited to major cities.”(1)


Most law enforcement entities relate that the significant spread of methamphetamines as a popular street drug initiated in the mid-1960s, and was a primary source of subsistence income for then-burgeoning ‘outlaw’ motorcycle clubs. Most will also relate that, in time, certain of these fraternities became ever more sophisticated, to the point where they became legitimately incorporated entities; some of which spread across the nation. A few have taken root in several foreign countries, resulting in an ever-increasing profitability; a growth at least initially enabled by drug profits.


As the variety of drugs which could be sold as contraband which garnered underground profits multiplied, from such as marijuana and heroin through such as Ecstasy and muscle enhancing steroids, greater criminal ventures became accessible by virtue of expanding profits, and the same entrepreneurial spirit merged with the ‘electronic age’, to coalesce into the near-pandemic realm of fraud. The heretofore pricey equipment necessary for counterfeiting currency and goods, ‘hacking’ account numbers and codes, identity theft and related activities deemed as significantly more sophisticated than ‘street corner’ or ‘hand-to-hand’ drug sales has become within reach of criminal organizations via drug sales profits.

Any accurate assessment by an investigator toward discerning fact within the constellation of an event is bolstered by an understanding of perspective; an inclusion of comprehension that is synergistic. That is to say, an understanding of greater breadth than simply documenting static facts which, by the time they are accumulated, have distracted a focus from a conceptual understanding to no more than an already out of date footnote in relation to halting crime, or resolving an incident involving crime.

A little known fact relating to the founding of the nation that was to become the U.S. is that Columbus’ exploratory voyage to attempt to locate a trade route to India, owing to the Crusades having interdicted Arab trade caravans, was in part to identify a source of a commodity craved by Europeans; the intoxicating sap from Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy.

Since January, 2007, more murders were committed in Mexico than the total number of casualties suffered by U.S. forces in the Iraqi war. The deaths were attributed primarily to turf wars, as former competitors and upstarts in the lucrative trans-border drug trade strove to gain control over the remnants of the now-fractured Arellano Felix Organization’s (AFO) rich drug smuggling empire, wrought by the killing and arrest of many of the cartel’s dominant family members and minions.

In the latter portion of the 1970s, an ‘arms race’ and virtual all-out war erupted amongst South Central Los Angeles gang sets, which heretofore had fought one another with fists, knives and usually poor quality firearms. With South Central as its epicenter, within a decade the eruption, fueled by the volcanic merchandising of Crack cocaine and buoyed by the arms which drug fortunes enabled, had spread through cities across the nation to Florida, merging into the equally violent cocaine wars that had been fought between the established Cuban crime/drug lords resisting incursion by South American entrepreneurial drug smugglers and Jamaican Posses.

The eastward expansion would boomerang back to the west coast in the late 1980s, as the U.S. government initiated a crackdown in the southeast. Lucrative routes via airplane, intermediate islands and sea lanes were shifted to the land bridge represented by Mexico; in reality, simply a revival of smuggling routes of sixty years earlier, during the era of alcohol Prohibition circa the 1920s. Midway between the two eras, heroin laboratories had begun to flourish in Mexico subsequent to the French chemists who had perfected the art of creating the drug being driven from their bases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East as the French colonial empires crumbled. As the chemists established their somewhat less-sophisticated laboratories in Mexico, their refining capabilities decreased, causing a shift from China White heroin to Mexican Brown heroin filtering along generally the same routes into the streets of the U.S.

By the 1980s, the tidal wave of drugs surging through the nation and the carnage wrought within the competition also mirrored, on a macro scale, those then-more-isolated gangster wars fueled by the enormous profits enabled by the 18th Amendment’s, and Volsted Act’s, 1919 Prohibition enacted across the U.S. (effectively, 1920-33). In spite of the numerous incarnations meant to stem this flow, seen in one perspective as initiating circa 1972 with the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) and in the morphing of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs into the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973 representing the War on Drugs, the tsunami-like cycle was to become a stationary hurricane, wreaking torment without abatement; fueled by the profits illicit enterprises engender.

Yet another unintended consequence of both Prohibition and the CSA involved methamphetamine. First developed from its precursor, amphetamine*, in Japan in 1919, it and amphetamine were utilized as intoxicants during Prohibition. Commercially available until the time of the CSA, “meth” then became the stock of trade for independent groups; it entered ‘popular culture’ in the 1960s as Crank, reputedly owing to it being ferried by outlaw motorcycle cliques in the crankcases of their motorcycles. Purportedly, around 1966 a chemist associated with outlaw biker organizations taught the methods to manufacture the chemical, and it rode into history akin to the thunder of a Harley.

(* Amphetamines were reportedly issued to U.S. troops during World War II and Vietnam and became a weight-loss staple in the 1950s/60s, until outlawed in the CSA schedule.)

Ever-tightening regulations of the chief ingredients ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, while perhaps minimally causing a reduction in the ability to manufacture the drug in the U.S., simply pushed the profit potential into Mexico, where the laboratories capable of mass quantities could manufacture the drug and the supplies needed to do so were readily available, after which it was simply ferried along with other contraband into the U.S.
The specter of drug abuse in the U.S. generally was first addressed in 1876, when opium was outlawed in San Francisco, California and Virginia City, Nevada; however, the thrust was largely meant to impact the growing population of Chinese laborers emigrating to the U.S. and providing cheap labor in industries such as railroads and mining. In spite of the fact that more than fifty percent of the opium addicts were White women who bought the then-legal drug, not unlike the cloistered middle class abuses of prescription drugs in the 1950s/60s, the laws were enabled by sensationalized stories of “horrifying opium dens where yellow fiends forced unsuspecting white women to become enslaved to the mischievous drug.” (2) In truth, it is estimated that by the late 1800s, eighty-five percent of the nation was addicted to one form or another of opiate derivatives.

Generally, the first recognized drug epidemic occurred in the U.S. subsequent to the Civil War (1861-65), known as the Army Disease. Owing to the horrific carnage of that conflict, within which medical remedies largely relied upon a knife and saw, the recently synthesized morphine combined with the also recently invented syringe seemingly offered a miracle relief to pain and suffering.

Ironically, morphine was ‘discovered’ during attempts to find a cure for alcoholism which was a national concern at the time. Heroin would later be embraced as a ‘cure’ for morphine addiction.

During the last half of the 1800s, heroin and cocaine were legal; heroin was advertised through venues such as Sears/Roebuck as a cough suppressant, ideal for minimizing the effects of then-rampant tuberculosis and influenza, and even as a sedative for colicky children; cocaine was initially deemed a bountiful means of interdicting alcohol and morphine addiction.

By the 1900s, addiction had become such a social blight that in 1914 the federal Harrison Act established that such substances were to be dispensed only by a physician. It was a law based upon taxation, a premise which would exist in one incarnation or another until the ’70s. An interesting aside to the law, and a harbinger of the future, is seen in the fact that the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas which was implemented in 1906 was, by 1923, populated more than fifty percent by those incarcerated for drug related crimes.

Marijuana, interestingly, had been touted at the 1876 New York World’s Fair, along with its derivative hashish. Available to the less affluent, particularly during Prohibition, and used universally in poor people’s medical remedies, it was to run afoul of some of history’s great moguls, newspaperman William Randolph Hearst and chemical giant Lamont DuPont. Hearst reputedly developed an enmity toward Mexicans owing to Doroteo Arango (Poncho Villa) purportedly having at one time usurped thousands of acres of his timber land as Villa’s armies gained control of Northern Mexico where Hearst had such holdings. Additionally, Hearst and Dupont had reportedly entered into a lucrative product merger which might have been threatened by the farming of the hemp plant, a once-heavily-subsidized commodity. Hemp had actually been a mandatory product for farmers in early colonial times.

Here again, buoyed by the threat to small farmers by the use of cheap Mexican immigrant labor by farming conglomerates, insecurities were enflamed by pronunciations akin to: "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.” (3)

In 1930 Harry J. Ainslinger, nephew-in-law to Lammont DuPont’s banker, Andrew Mellon, was given control of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, precursor to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He would help shepherd in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, segueing upon 1936’s infamous film, Refer Madness. The film, however, targeted largely middle-class White youth, who, in the halcyon euphoria of the 1950s would form the generation which embraced the genre depicted in the ’50s movie Rebel Without a Cause, and setting the stage for the era of license which became “the ’60s”.

Radio, movies and even drive-in theaters largely became part of the American fabric in the 1920s, just in time to glamorize the excesses of the infamous gangsters of Prohibition, and the indulgences and opulence of the heretofore marginalized immigrant communities, as embodied by the likes of Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. Thet, as did many others, recognized the need for a profit substitute as the end of Prohibition loomed. The obvious substitute became drugs; Luciano was among the early pioneers of the establishment of a French heroin connection. As it had been with the fact of alcohol’s prohibition enabling stratospheric profiteering, over time the substitute became equally lucrative as successive governments enabled profiteering by effectively and more stringently prohibiting the intoxicating, seemingly liberating, substances without otherwise addressing root issues.

“Although the subculture of the professional thief depicted in Dickens, Melville and Victor Hugo was first eroded by Prohibition’s organized crime and their turf wars, it was destroyed by drugs and the drug underworld.” (4)

And while politicians utilized enflamed rhetoric to further political and power positioning agendas, the lessons of the ’20s seemingly went unheeded; particularly the fact that upon Prohibition’s repeal the national crime rate dropped by roughly two-thirds. In fact, Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment owing directly to the fact that criminal enterprises were growing more powerful than the federal government, in both arms and the buying-off of politicians. Society, too, lost the lesson of the past, in the form of ‘entertainment’ media’s continuing glamorization of crime’s excesses.

Marginalized populations heeded the mantra, “Respect is something your dad can’t buy for you” (5), and the most available route to glamour and respect was the lucre of modern prohibition’s commodities.

Gestating in the backwater that South Central had become, the hurricane found fuel within the umbrella of politics, when in the late 1970s as a result of the civil war in Nicaragua, tons of cocaine were routed into the U.S.; evidence exists demonstrating that those who delved in such shipments were doing so with U.S. law enforcement sanction; at a minimum owing to a ‘blind eye’.

By fate’s happenstance a young entrepreneur encountered a major conduit for the massive, west coast cocaine infusion. Ricky Donnell Ross, AKA Freeway, became an early community distribution point for the cocaine of Nicaraguan drug lords Norwin Meneses Cantarero and Danilo Blandon, and had roots in the then-burgeoning 7/4 Crips; and Ross had learned of the then-rare cocaine derivative, Crack.

Within three years, staggering amounts of Crack inundated first South Central, then greater L.A.; then, skipped across the U.S. landing in metropolitan areas in its traverse. With it went the empowerment huge amounts of cash endowed, and the lust for demonstrated excesses. No longer were knives and trash guns needed; sophisticated weaponry in the form of automatic rifles, even explosives, were just a handful of cash away.

Throughout the 1980s the significant amounts of street corner cash was not missed by the dominant cliques associated with Southern California gangs; by 1993 one among them had begun to secure dominance in the drug dealing arena. After all, unlike Blacks and Whites and even Asians in the U.S., generally, Latinos, especially those of Mexican heritage owing to the proximity of Mexico, had a virtual umbilical-cord-like supply connection.

This connection notwithstanding, all segments of those seeking the impressive wealth proffered by the illicit drug trade strive for dominance, synergistically buoyed by the enormous profiteering-enabled by the current state of governmental and societal approach to ‘recreational’ drugs.

An interesting and equally relevant aside related to the Mexico-to-U.S. drug commerce is the fact that while drugs flow from south-to-north, the firearms used to bolster the strong arm of the drug runners flow from north-to-south. Unscrupulous firearms dealers reap their own fortunes from the illegal sales of guns into Mexico. As it has been with drugs, the growing reaction is to inflict restrictive, generic laws upon gun ownership. The ‘downstream’ effect of this reaction, as opposed to an appropriate response, has been to empower the criminal element by denuding the right of the innocent, law-abiding citizen of his/her right to own arms and defend themselves, and a deflation of the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment.

With respect to both ingredients of this criminal constellation, drugs and guns/violence, the standard reaction, which flies in the face of the reality that “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it”, continues to be to chase the tail of the viper while failing to address the venomous head. Then, feigning wonderment at the serpent’s ability to turn back on itself with venomous strikes.

The War on Drugs as it has been fought, rather than impacting the scourge with abatement, has instead fueled the holocaust, and will continue to do so. In spite of often exemplary actions, and even heroism, on the part of agents; rendered fruitless on a predictable and cyclical schedule.

In tandem, the outlawing of gun ownership has begun to involve criminalization of otherwise ‘ordinary’ citizens, and increased crime by impeding a law abiding citizen’s ability to own a gun for defense; a fact which criminals capitalize upon. And, publicity afforded the few mentally infirm individuals who run amuck with a firearm ensures that others afflicted with such maladies will follow along the same path to infamy, while once again affording politicians a knee-jerk podium from which to postulate in a bid for attention, and power.

Mexican cities, especially along the border, have been breached by the drug violence, and the seeds for replication are already in place in the U.S.; recently Mexico’s courageous reporter Vicente Calderon revealed that many of the Mexican ‘puppet masters’ controlling the Mexican drug cartels actually do so from within enclaves in the U.S. Amongst the somewhat cloistered communities of wealthy Mexican nationals who have fled the violence of their homeland, the reality that Mexican crime syndicates are already kidnapping Mexican citizens from within the U.S. is common knowledge.

As in the ’20s Prohibition, wherein the gangland leadership needed logistical/support minions and found them in street gangs, cadres from among street gangs have again begun to form the nucleus of narco armies within the U.S.

This, ironically, includes literally thousands of combat-wise veterans of wars in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica who were actually taught urban guerilla warfare tactics by U.S. forces; which at the time were attempting to bolster anti-communist governments or battle rapacious cartels in those nations. ‘Veterans’, often from all sides of a foreign conflict, now populate, often as second class citizens, barrios (ethnic Latin American communities) in the U.S. Distinct examples include members of the now-infamous Mara Salvatrucha, and Mara-13*.

(*Often thought to be one-in-the same, this is generally inaccurate; and, those investigators with acute insight recognize that in spite of the salacious sound-bites favored by camera-lens-seeking politicians and ‘drive-by media’ reporters, these structures pay homage to an even more dominant, home-grown U.S. street gang.
Undeniably, no simple solution presents itself in the constellation of indulgence-inflamed drug consumption and hedonistic profiteering. Equally as undeniable, the huge profits assured the purveyors of illicit, illegal contraband guarantees that the current escalation of crime and violence will accelerate unabated, until such time as individual responsibility is embraced in a venue other than simply punitive castigation.

The astute investigator must meanwhile recognize that in the netherworld fueled by power and profit, nothing is as it seems, and must forego an assumption of the obvious at all times, toward negotiating a path divining truth in any venue. To do less is to simply perpetuate the escalation imbued by the ‘slippery slope’; “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” as one may have been taught, in this world, matter little in the end.

  1. Urban Street Gang Enforcement.; Series: Monograph; Author: Bureau of Justice Assistance; Published: August 1999

  2. Heroin: Humberto Fernandez

  3. The 1st Drug Czar: http://www.heartbone.com/no_thugs/hja.htm

  4. Education of a Felon: Edward Bunker

  5. Professor James Hernandez, D.P.A., Prof. of Criminal Justice, CSU-Sacramento

(Board Certified Criminal Defense Investigator George Michael Newman, CFE, CCDI, CII has excerpted edited limited portions of his presentation Ganging Up: Roots & Routes: A Current of Colossal Synthesis for this piece. The presentation’s focus is neither to demonize nor glamorize the realities of gang or culture, but rather to address factually and pragmatically those factors which have brought this phenomenon into existence in order to enhance the field investigator’s ability to extract objective fact when researching an event.)


© Copyright 2009 The John Cooke Fraud Report