Cannabis / Marijuana, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Wade Davis: The War on Drugs Is a Predictable Failure
By Anthony Wile - January 04, 2015

Introduction: Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, named as one of the Explorers for the Millennium. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunavut and Greenland. Davis is an ethnographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker with degrees in anthropology and biology and a Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard. For more than three years he was a plant explorer in the Amazon and Andes, living among 15 indigenous groups in 8 Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections. He has written more than 16 books, translated into 16 languages, including The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (2009) and One River (1996).

Anthony Wile: Thanks for talking with us. What led you to ethnobotany and the study of indigenous flora in the Amazon region? Tell us about some of the conclusions you've come to concerning native plant species' potential impact on the world if the War on Drugs did not limit the possibilities.

Wade Davis: A great number of important pharmaceutical drugs are derived from natural products and many of those were first identified by indigenous people, including everything from cocaine hydrochloride, which is still our most important topical anesthetic from coca leaves, or quinine from Cinchona bark or d-Tubocurarine, which, of course, wasn't recognized by the Indians as a muscle relaxant but was obviously identified by them as an arrow poison that killed by causing muscular control to collapse in the prey. When you combine the fact that many drugs have come from plants with the fact that a very small percentage of the flora has actually been assayed for its biodynamic properties, this created the rationale for exploration through ethnobotany of the flora and of the botanical knowledge of the indigenous people.

The problem has been, in fact, that drug discovery isn't really following the roots of natural product chemistries much anymore and that in suggesting that the inherent value of the tropical rain forest lay in the fact that it could be nature's pharmacy, if you will, and when the promise of that research did not necessarily pan out as dramatically as people hoped, then the question became, does that mean the forest has no value?

In my career I've come full circle to argue that the rain forests are important for their own inherent value just as the indigenous people who know those forests best are most useful to the modern world not because they will necessarily lead us to new drugs but rather because they embody a different vision of life itself, a different way of living in that forest and a different way of knowing that forest, if you will.

One of the fascinating things now is that we can look at some complex of cultures like the people of the northwest Amazon of Colombia, the Batasana, the Makuna, the Tanimukos, and we can actually see a couple things. One is the fact that they may well be the, if you will, up-country cousins of the descendants of the great civilizations of the Amazon that we now understand existed before European diseases swept through at the time of contact. But also we can recognize in the sophistication of their cosmologies and their mythologies nothing less than a land management plan in a way dictating how people can live in great numbers in the upland forests of the Amazon.

In a way, I've come full circle to believing that the real contribution of indigenous people around the world in general is the fact that they represent entire other options for life itself as a social species.

The interesting thing that's going on is that the central revelation of anthropology is cultural relativism, which is just the idea that other peoples of the world aren't failed attempts at being you. Each culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question, what does it mean to be human and alive. When the peoples of the world answer that, they do so in 7,000 different voices.

Ironically, genetics has proven that to be quite true in the sense that over the last 30 years geneticists have shown race to be an utter fiction, the genetic endowment of humanity to be a continuum. We're all cut from the same genetic cloth. We're all descendants of the handful of people who walked out of Africa some 65,000 years ago and then embarked on this hegira 40,000 years in duration; 2,500 human generations have carried the human spirit to ever corner of the world. But if you accept the scientific truth that we're all cut from the same cloth, it follows that every culture shares the same genius. Whether that genius is expressed through technological wizardry or by contrast placed into the challenge of unraveling the threads of memory inherent in a myth is simply a matter of choice.

So there is no hierarchy in the affairs of culture, this persistent idea that we somehow went from the savage to the barbarian to the civilized has really been exposed by modern anthropology to be an artifact of the 19th century, as irrelevant to our lives today as the notion that clergymen had then that the Earth was but 4,000 years old.

What this really means in the end is that every culture has something to say and each deserves to be heard. If you measure success strictly by technological achievement, of course the West comes out on top. But if you look at other values, you can see that we have lots to learn from other cultures just as they have lots to learn from us.

That puts into rather haunting perspective the consensus in the linguistic community that half the languages of the world are disappearing in a generation because that implies by definition that half of the intellectual, social, spiritual, ecological knowledge of humanity is being lost in a single generation.

Anthony Wile: Share with us a summary of how you initially started on this path and then how, as you just said, you've come full circle.

Wade Davis: I began studying anthropology as an undergraduate and I was fortunate to fall into the orbit of the man who became my tutor, David Maybury Lewis, who was a great, great anthropologist but also a great humanist. He strongly felt that it wasn't good enough to simply study in a theoretical way the contributions of indigenous people if we weren't going to do anything to protect their human rights and their abilities to thrive. He founded Cultural Survival, which became the world's foremost NGO working to support the aspirations of indigenous people in 1972, right when I was a student.

I was very much influenced by that and at the same time I fell into the orbit of Richard Evan Schultes, the great Amazonian botanist and recognized very quickly that the loss of biological diversity was complemented by an erosion of cultural diversity, very often caused by the same forces. So at a time in the '70s, at a time when biologists and anthropologists were somewhat at odds and the biologists tended to view indigenous people as part of the problem and the anthropologists dismissed the biologists as being misanthropic, I sort of was bridging both disciplines.

I also had a very strong sense that what was going on in the world that we were writing and reading about is too important to have it simply stay within the confines of the university. I think that was when I first got the idea that these issues needed to be addressed in a public forum, and I think that was really the beginning of what became a long career of public speaking and popular writing and film-making and so on. I essentially became in a sense a public anthropologist. And a storyteller because polemics are never persuasive and politicians follow, they rarely lead, but storytellers can change the world. That was really what led me eventually to the National Geographic and the opportunity to use that large platform to tell such stories to the world.

Anthony Wile: Ted Talks seems to be one vehicle that's now reintroducing storytelling to a broader audience through the Internet. We've watched your own Ted Talk, "Dreams From Endangered Cultures," and the breadth of the story you're able to tell in such a short time period is phenomenal, really.

Wade Davis: It's very interesting you should say that. I'm on the board of Ted, the Brain Trust. I remember when Chris Anderson, the curator, who's a wonderful fellow, first came up with the idea of putting Ted Talks online, there was some discussion as to whether or not the speakers would be willing to let their intellectual property be given away for free. I remember quoting the Beatles, who said the more you give, the more you get. What's happened is that the Ted Talk platform, both for the audience and for the speakers, has been successful beyond all expectations. Individuals have built entire careers based on the success of a single Ted Talk.

I think Chris gets something like 15,000 unsolicited requests to speak at Ted every year – not to attend Ted but literally to speak at Ted. At the same time, in a more important sense, the structure and quality and presentation of the Ted Talk has now become the bar. You cannot speak to an academic conference, you cannot speak to a group of stockholders, you can't speak to a group of politicians in the old, boring way that people did. There are very successful media trainers in many parts of the world who are now building a living teaching people how to do Ted Talks even though they have never attended Ted themselves. It's interesting that the 15-minute format is really ideal. If you can't tell a story in 15 minutes you don't have a story, whereas 5 minutes is too short for a good story to be told. It's really interesting how that has infected, in the best sense of the word, the nature of public discourse.

Anthony Wile: It's made a way around, so to speak, what have been the narrow constraints of academic journals and mainstream journalism. It does seem people have longed for an outlet to tell their stories these days, which really isn't an honored practice in Western culture, and Ted gives them an opportunity to do so.

Wade Davis: Absolutely. It's the ultimate gift of the Internet that you can have unfiltered presentations in all fields. Interestingly, I just got a notice from Switzerland's leading think tank. Apparently they do a thing each year where they work with MIT to somehow come up with a list of the 100 most influential thought leaders in the world. Lord knows how they come up with the list, but I was lucky enough this year to be ranked number 16 in the world. Not that that's deserved, but I bring it up because when I looked at the list of speakers, in that cohort of 100 it was amazing how many of them I knew from Ted. So Ted's really had a powerful influence in a world where, if you think about it, students are reading few books, television has become a wasteland and the Internet, although it's a global campfire, is so vast that it's difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Suddenly you have this very dependable filter, which is called Ted, which presents large ideas in a very accessible, engaging manner.

Anthony Wile: When it comes to indigenous cultures and recognizing their inherent value as opposed to their oft-perceived value as simply being able to give Westerners something, do you see that importance being more broadly recognized now or are we, at least in the America's still living in a Western-centric world?

Wade Davis: Like everything else in the process of social change, it doesn't happen overnight. Consider, for example, the environmental movement. When we were kids, just getting people to stop throwing garbage out of the car window was considered a great environmental victory. No one spoke of the biosphere or biodiversity. Now those words are part of the language of schoolchildren. There's been amazing progress. In our lifetimes, women have gone from the kitchen to the boardroom, people of color from the woodshed to the White House, gay people from the plaza to the altar. It's pretty amazing, the social transformation that has occurred in a single generation.

I think at the same time, when I first began to speak of language loss, for example, in the late 1990s – 1996 to 1999 – there really were only two linguists, Ken Hale at MIT and Michael Cross at University of Fairbanks, who were speaking powerfully about this trend that appeared to have a complete academic consensus, which is kind of remarkable. I couldn't believe it. I started speaking myself and I don't by any means take all the credit or even any serious part of the credit for what happened, but certainly in the next decade, the combination of forces coming together, which included my voice, created the transformation. There was suddenly a tsunami of books coming out on language loss and revitalization, NGOs started up, programs in indigenous communities started up and suddenly, out of nowhere this became recognized as the serious challenge that it indeed is.

I think that's how history works. It's like a wave, not like a sharp fulcrum where overnight something changes. As a wave of history is moving in one direction you still have people pulling the other way simply because they don't understand the world coming at them from below or behind.

Anthony Wile: One current example of a wave of history, which we've been writing about for over a year, is the shift away from the war on drugs and toward legalization of drugs. There really is a lot of fear surrounding this wave and people pulling the other way, as you said.

Wade Davis: That's a good example. Thirty years from now the entire war on drugs will be seen as one of the greatest acts of folly in the history of public policy. Barbara Tuckman described folly in that wonderful book of hers as when a nation fully in possession of the facts continues to promote policies that work against its own self-interest. There's no better example than the war on drugs. What has it cost, $60 billion a year, since Richard Nixon? Yet there are more people using worse drugs than ever before.

People don't even ask the important questions about it. Consider, for example, cannabis legalization. I don't particularly like cannabis. I don't use it and I think it's properly called dope. But I live in a province, British Columbia, where by the government's own accounting marijuana is bigger than timber. But no one asks the obvious follow-up question to that, which is that if it really is as big as the government says, what that implies is that thousands of kids wake up every day in families that don't pay their taxes, that aren't part of the social contract, kids who grow up in a world where everything around them is saying that it's okay to cheat the government and not pay your part and be outside of the system. That phenomenon, sociologically, is infinitely more corrosive to the wellbeing of the society than the consequences of people smoking this relatively innocuous weed that in 4,000 years has never been responsible for a single incident of mortality or morbidity.

I think what we'll see very quickly is that everybody's going to follow the precedents of Colorado and Washington state and even the most anti-drug politicians will not be able to resist the huge revenues that will come through legalization, and before you know it, marijuana, at least, will be legal and it won't change anything except bringing huge amounts of revenue into the public coffers, which would be a good thing.

You could legalize drugs tomorrow and consumption wouldn't go up. I've never met anyone in 40 years whose decision to use or not use illicit drugs has had anything to do with their legal status. If people want to use drugs today they can use them. The reason people don't use them and the reason cocaine consumption has dropped, certainly in the middle class and the educated classes, is because people know it's a stupid thing to do. If cocaine was legalized tomorrow, I think people would be surprised by how little consumption increased.

Anthony Wile: Yes. In countries that have decriminalized – Portugal is a good example – social ills have been addressed and usage has not increased. On the contrary, education as well as services and treatment to drug abusers has become much more widespread and effective.

Wade Davis: The pharmacological consequences aren't even the issue. Of course, there are social consequences of empowering and funding huge criminal mafias. Years ago the priority should have been to break the backs of the cartels, not to punish students or kids who use these substances. It's going to take a while yet, and it would never be an African-American president because the African-American community tends to be the most anti-drug simply because they've seen their communities torn apart, but I think you're going to see some kind of Republican president who will invoke George Schultz and do the obvious.

When it happens, it will happen overnight, generate a lot of revenue and the negative impacts on the culture I think will be trivial compared to the known consequences of prohibition.

Anthony Wile: What are the negative consequences that you see, mainly?

Wade Davis: I don't think drug use of any sort should be socially sanctioned by the society any more than alcohol use should be sanctioned by the society. There's no such thing as good and bad drugs; there's only good and bad ways of using drugs. There will always be some people, whether the drugs are legal or illegal, who will use them in bad and foolish and stupid ways.

The question is whether we as a culture should be held accountable for their actions and I would say no. In other words, I shouldn't be limited in what I can or cannot do by the inability of some fellow citizen to control what they will do. I don't mean that in terms of 'I can use drugs and I use them; why shouldn't I be able to use them?' That's not what I mean at all. I mean I don't see why a country that I love, like Colombia, should be torn apart because some Americans can't control their cocaine use. I don't see why the streets of the cities should be in any way hazardous for my children, who don't use drugs, only because we support a criminal cartel and a mafia that can only stay alive because of the illicit nature of those drugs.

Drugs make cities unsafe. Drugs make Vancouver, where I live, have the highest rate of petty crime by 50% of any city in North America. Why should I have my laptop stolen from my car, as has happened, because of a public policy decision that's conceived to protect people too foolish to know the dangers of drugs, if you know what I mean? In other words, why should my daughters walk through the street where there are desperate people ready to hurt them. I'm being hysterical here, but they wouldn't be there ready to hurt my daughters if they weren't desperate for drugs and because drugs are illegal. I shouldn't be responsible for the consequences of drugs that I don't use.

Anthony Wile: Absolutely.

Wade Davis: If we legalize drugs tomorrow, undoubtedly some people will go off and try to use them. Who am I to say that cocaine use, for example, won't spike for a moment or that some people won't get in trouble with cocaine? My argument is that people who want to use cocaine have access to it pretty readily now all the time, and in general, I think cocaine use has subsided because people know it's a bad drug. The legalization of cocaine won't imply that all the people who know cocaine is a terrible drug to use recreationally are suddenly going to change their mind and run out and use cocaine simply because it's now legal. The point is, I've never met anyone whose decision to use or not use drugs has had anything to do with their legal status. That's not why people choose to use or not use drugs. People who choose not to use drugs are smart people who realize that these drugs are not good for you, whether they're legal or not.

Anthony Wile: The Western media's portrayal of Colombia, Mexico, etc. when it comes to the war on drugs often is that the people are "not like us," that they're violent, dangerous. Having spent so much time there, as I have, how do you reply to that particular propaganda meme?

Wade Davis: Absolutely not. That is totally ridiculous. The reason that Colombia is associated with cocaine is very simple. Colombia is arguably the most remarkable country in Latin America, certainly the most entrepreneurial country in Latin America, and the most entrepreneurial of all Colombians are the Paisas, who live in the Department of Antioquia, where Medellin is situated. The nickname for Colombia in South America is La Tienda en la Esquina, the shop on the corner. The cocaine trade in Colombia began in the early 1970s. I was there. I witnessed it. It was an alliance of young Colombian sort of hippies and street-level schemers and traders and smugglers and so forth who met all these American Vietnam vets, many of whom knew how to fly. That's what put it all together.

The Americans were not just complicitous in the growth of the cocaine trade because they drove the engine of consumption, which is self-evident to everybody, but people in America forget that the actual architecture of the industry itself began as this alliance of Vietnam vets who went to Colombia because of its beauty, its cheap living, the presence of marijuana and beautiful women, wonderful sites, whatever, close to America. And suddenly you had this demand for cocaine and it was easy to transport by small planes and the pilots were Americans who started the whole thing, in alliance with these scuzzy little characters. Before you knew it, the trade became so vast and sordid that these terrible cartel monsters came about. But it started on the street level. I know that because I lived in Medellin when it all began. I witnessed it all.

As it grew, our consumption drove the economic engine. I don't care what product you're talking about, broomsticks or battery acid, if you've got a 10,000, 15,000 percent markup or whatever it is and all you have to do is get the broomsticks from Barranquilla across the Caribbean to Louisiana, you're going to have a trade in broomsticks.

What we've constantly done is exported our dilemma to Colombia, and the Colombians never use cocaine. I was there. Over the two generations, we have essentially fueled a war because of cocaine. That's why I always say to every person who ever talks about cocaine that every time you use cocaine you might as well pull a trigger on an Indian person or pull the chainsaw and cut down an acre of tropical rain forest. What we should have done with cocaine is made it unhip. We should have had public service announcements from athletes and movie stars and rock and rollers saying that every time you use cocaine you kill an Indian, which is true. We tore apart a sovereign country. Colombia's suffered such agonies because of our consumption of cocaine. It's absolutely obscene to try to suggest that Colombians are the source and the cause of this problem. The problem rests in the hands of every American and European who snorts or smokes or injects that terrible drug.

Anthony Wile: Perhaps rather than people having "forgotten" that's how it started it's more a matter that the propaganda has been so effective and in general we are so lacking in historical knowledge that most don't know and have never even heard the truth of the matter. When the War on Drugs really kicked in, what effect did that have? How did that shift what was already a terrible situation?

Wade Davis: All this can't be divorced from geopolitics. You had a tradition of class between left and right in Colombia, going back certainly to the assassination of Gaitán in 1948. That sparked La Violencia, which was a 14-year civil war between conservatives and liberals, the conservatives being the Church, the prominent landowners and the liberals representing a rising middle class and a rising working class in Colombia. That civil war, which was extremely violent, came to an end when both sides were exhausted and they agreed to trade the presidency every six years. So Colombia recovered very well until the beginning of the '70s when the cocaine thing took off. You still had vestiges of the left in a kind of flurry of activity of Che Guevara and Castro and De le Torres in the late '60s and the romanticization of the left. You had some very sincere leftist groups in Colombia who came out of the universities who really did in a positive sense want social revolution. But those groups over time, like all military groups can do, just became battle-hardened guerillas whose only raison d'etre was the fact that they had to fight to stay alive.

As their support from Castro ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, suddenly they had to find money elsewhere and they turned to drug control and drug smuggling just as the paramilitaries were. The paramilitaries were simply groups that grew up to protect the vested interests of the large landowners and then in a sense became a right-wing force of their own, easily culpable of more tragedies and more massacres than even the left wing. But the left wing were no romantic leftist group. They'd become a kind of bandit group funded by cocaine and kidnapping, and reviled in Colombia.

I was in Colombia when a Facebook campaign of two kids got started that simply said "No Mas FARC." FARC's the group that's now negotiating in Havana with the Colombian government, Fuerzes Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia. They are widely reviled in the country and two million people came out on the streets of Bogota simply saying "No Mas FARC." The FARC would not be alive today if it wasn't for the cocaine trade.

The one thing that did occur, Plan Colombia – which was the Bush initiative that led to Colombia being the third largest recipient of foreign aid in the world, which most Americans don't know – obviously had its challenges and certainly has its critics but it did help the Colombian army become a more professional force, which certainly helped Santos when he was defense minister combat the FARC and ideally, limit civilian casualties and military atrocities and generally put the FARC on the run, which is where they are today.

The hope now is that the FARC, having suffered any number of setbacks, will make peace in Havana, a peace that will unfortunately or fortunately force Colombians to ultimately put the past behind them and in place of restitution find contentment in peace, I suppose, like South Africa did. That's a great hope for Colombia and if that happens then certainly President Santos will deserve the Nobel Peace prize.

Anthony Wile: What has happened to the indigenous cultures there and in other parts of South America over this violent, difficult time?

Wade Davis: Colombia has a complicated history. On the one hand, there have been areas of Colombia where the Paez Indians have always been closely aligned with the left and they've certainly suffered during this terrible, what was at one point three-way civil war between the army, the paramilitaries and the guerillas. But in other parts of Colombia there have been incredibly progressive things done. For example, in the northwest Amazon of Colombia, President Trujillo Barco some years ago said to a wonderful anthropologist and very close friend of mine, Martin von Hildebrand, "Martin, do something for the Indians." In five incredible years as head of Indian Affairs, Martin did more than something. He put aside an area of land collectively the size of the United Kingdom in perpetuity as encoded in the 1991 constitution of the country, lands for 57 ethnicities in the northwest Amazon of Colombia. Behind the veil of isolation created by the lack of a strong federal presence in that vast forest the size of France, a whole new dream of culture has been reborn.

By the same token, when I first lived in Colombia and would go to live with the Elder Brothers, the Arahuacos, the Kogi, the Wiwa in the Sierra Nevada de Santo Marta, people in Bogota would say, "Why do you want to live with the 'dirty people'?" Now, by contrast, the last five Colombian presidents, as a first act of office, have flown by helicopter to the mountains to pay homage to the Mamas priests of those societies. The Elder Brother has emerged as a symbol of continuity and hope in a country that's been troubled by all these difficulties brought on by our drug habits.

Like all countries, Colombia is complicated, but on the other hand, through all these decades of war it's maintained positive economic growth. Both Medellin and Bogota have become green cities by any standards. The university systems have continued to be the best in Latin America. The arts in Bogota have never been stronger. It's pretty incredible what has happened.

Anthony Wile: Given that the former presidents of, for instance, Bolivia and Uruguay, are native, are indigenous peoples generally being more honored throughout Latin America?

Wade Davis: I think it's a mixed record. I think the Brazilians have made great efforts. Brazil is not a homogeneous place, obviously. You've got vested interests who would be happy to get rid of all the native people and you've got other people willing to put their lives on the line to protect native people. That's always been the case. Certainly this is not something where we should be looking south and judging people, given our rather poor record in terms of treating indigenous people in the United States. I think in general it's like everything else. There are people putting their shoulders to the wheel of what might be called righteousness, I guess, and others who are working on the side of the negative. And the whole thing, as my father always said, is just to keep pushing that wheel of decency and goodness forward.

Anthony Wile: As we wrap this up, talk briefly, if you would, about ayahuasca and other substances that have relatively recently been discovered by people around the world as beneficial. As Westerners become more familiar with these substances will that become a problem for native people?

Wade Davis: I don't think so. We live in a globalized world and globalization in economic terms has been so celebrated when, in fact, all it really means is capital in search of cheap labor. But in a social sense, we live in an increasingly interconnected world in which the Internet has become a kind of global campfire, and I think this is ultimately kind of a positive thing in the sense that indigenous people don't feel isolated. If they are confronted by conflict they can communicate with other indigenous people and other supporters around the world who come to their aid or offer advice. In the same way that, for example, the Buddhist dharma has spread powerfully to the West to the extent that His Holiness the Dalai Llama has suggested that his incarnation may be discovered in the West, whatever that will mean politically and spiritually for the Tibetans. It shouldn't surprise us that something as powerful as ayahuasca has caught the attention of young people throughout the Western world.

I think there's a very strong hunger in the millennial generation for authenticity and I think that's one of the reasons that my largest audience tends to be people in their 20s and early-30s, people who are interested in these other cultures, these other realities, other possibilities for life itself.

Anthony Wile: That's not really surprising, is it? The culture in which we grew up certainly doesn't seem to be working.

Wade Davis: Well, there are lots of wonderful things about our culture and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but nor would the Panoan want to trade their culture for my culture – and why should they have to? The issue is not the traditional versus a modern. It's a right of free people to choose the components of their own lives. It's not about freezing people in the past or us returning to a pre-industrial past; it's about finding a way that all peoples can benefit from the best of modernity without that engagement demanding the death of themselves as an ethnicity, because culture's not trivial.

Anthony Wile: Where are you going next? What will you be writing about?

Wade Davis: I've got four or five books under contract. I'm going to Colombia to start a project to celebrate the rivers of Colombia, all part of an overall issue to try to rebrand Colombia and let people know that it's not the country of drugs but it's a country of beauty.

Anthony Wile: As they say, "The only risk is not wanting to leave."

Wade Davis: Exactly.

Anthony Wile: Any of your books or films in particular you'd refer readers to pertaining to our interview today?

Wade Davis: My book The Wayfinders, is the one that mainly discusses these issues. The movies, "The Elder Brothers: A Journey to the Heart of the World" and "Peoples of the Anaconda" will also be of interest. All of these can be found at my website,

Anthony Wile: We'd add that your Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta photographs, also at your website, are truly stunning. Thanks very much for your time.

Anthony Wile: You are welcome.

After Thoughts

Thanks to Wade Davis for a great interview. He points out that, "You could legalize drugs tomorrow and consumption wouldn't go up. I've never met anyone in 40 years whose decision to use or not use illicit drugs has had anything to do with their legal status. If people want to use drugs today they can use them."

The war on drugs has been portrayed as a necessary evil because people who use drugs are not good citizens and apt to create mayhem at any given moment. In fact, as Davis explains, the war on drugs likely had little no or impact on consumption, and even on production.

We are fortunate to live in a day and age when the attitude of society toward drugs is changing. Now, as we and others have documented, the war on drugs is apparently lessening and may soon be history.

If so, some of the insights that have created this different approach will have been generated by people like Wade Davis who have had the courage to explore the reality of drug use and the efficacy of ancient culture in general.

Once the criminalization of drugs, specifically cannabis, is a thing of the past, we can look forward to a more sensible and healthy approach toward drugs and drug use.

At The Daily Bell, we are anticipating that day eagerly because of the enhanced liberty it will afford as well as entrepreneurial opportunities and medical treatments. Like others, we are grateful to Wade Davis and others for blazing a path.

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Posted in Cannabis / Marijuana, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
  • epazote

    The USA backs drug trafficking (profit and geopolitical control)

  • You have to give up this idea that the War on Drugs (or any of the other never-ending wars) is a failure, if you’re going to make any sense on the subject.

    The War on Drugs has been, and still is, an enormous success. It stands now as a far greater money-spinner than World Wars One and Two combined. It has handed more power to the powerful, more money to the wealthy, and vastly enlarged the power and privilege of the state and its agents across the globe. Even our putative enemies have been eagre participants and partners in this stifling power grab, so successful has it been.

    You can only think of the War on Drugs as a failure if you are naive enough to believe that the stated aims are the real aims of the primary actors. But when has any monarch or courtier told the truth about why a kingdom goes to war? (Hint: never.) So why posit the War on Drugs as the sole single historical example? The very notion is risible.

    As long as you keep proclaiming this foolish idea, you actually work to buttress the present system, in exactly the same way that the defenders of the Iraq War who looked at their shoes and said “well, yes, mistakes were made.” … No, neither that nor the prosecution of the War on Drugs was a mistake. It was not a policy error. It was a deliberate, calculated, cynical, and highly successful, crime against humanity.

    It cannot be fixed by electing better Presidents to such a pinnacle of untrammelled power. The only viable solution is to admit to yourself these simple, easily demonstrable, historical truths:

    1. power corrupts.
    2. absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    3. people in positions of absolute power are either (A) absolutely corrupt, or (B) becoming so.
    4. the only available “solution” to this problem of recalcitrant human nature is to distribute power as far and wide as possible.

    Unless and until you (A) recognise, and (B) begin to incorporate in your thinking and speaking, these simple truths, you make yourselves a part of the problem. An unwilling and unwitting part, perhaps, but you’re smart people. You ought to know better.

    (parenthetically, it has been my experience that few people are actually capable of relinquishing their emotional attachments to their own country, and the hope that it will somehow muddle through to a better way without first enduring extreme hardships, and the upheavals that inevitably accompany them. Again, history speaks against this hope but it remains nigh unkillable nonetheless.)

    • Excellent comment Scuzza Man! Excellent interview, thank you DB. Sorry Wade Davis, cocaine is not a “bad drug”. Methamphetamine is in my opinion a bad drug. But I will leave to each individual to determine what the good drugs are for them personally, it sounds to me like you are a little hysterical about cocaine – again the problems have been caused by the laws not the drug. The laws and the War on Drugs are what contributed to the problems in Columbia (and here as well). Thank you for the many excellent concepts in this interview and for all your wonderful work on behalf of indigenous people. We have so much to learn from them, including how to use cocaine (by chewing the leaves). Decent coke is unavailable in the west anymore. Everything has been synthesized, stepped on, and toxisified. Just like our GMO food : (

    • If you are addressing us we would respond that 1) the war existed and 2) it did not achieve its stated aims. This makes it a “failure.”

      You are addressing a far deeper point …

      • who cares about its “stated aims”?

        its ACTUAL aims are being achieved, and have in fact become the norm, the default, the only acceptable starting position for civilised debate in our joke of a civilisation.

        See how the progressives and liberals clamour to be **ALLOWED** to possess up to five plants … simultaneously surrendering all principle while claiming victory.

  • Fabian

    Great article but I disagree on cocain, the best human invention since sliced bread. Legalizing it wouldn’t hurt the Indians any more than tourism and it can be synthesize anyway. On a more general point of view, Mr. Davis is an interventionist of the worth kind if you take a libertarian point of view. Is it good or bad, I don’t know and we’ll not have the answer as long as you have forests the size of France almost without inhabitants. But to make an analogy, nobody is bawling about the vanishing of the coal miners’ culture in 19th century England…

  • Tom Brandt

    Don’t be a fool:
    Criminals would seek new fields of criminal activities, but do not go to regular work – because there is no work.
    The end of war on drugs is not the end of criminality and terror.
    Then maybe there would be much more kidnappings and extortions.

    • joe

      naaaaah… they’d just become cops…oh, wait you said kidnapping and extortion! You’re right after all!

  • William Scott


    The TED TALK format is something I’ve been contemplating combining with another online vehicle to promote “alternative thinking and process,” since aside from a further “awakening” towards a “evolution” in human consciousness… we now need to harness modern technology to “revolutionize” human endeavor… vs. continuing to participate in this “prison planet” of “artificial scarcity,” based upon greed, fear and ignorance… under the “illusion of control” deception.

    Perhaps the most useful means to promote “alternatives” to say “Imperialism” is to vote with one’s time, energy, expertise and investment… towards a new era of worldwide growth and prosperity, vs. tolerating the continuation of this “Orwellian” false reality paradigm, where the “legalized” privatization of everything, faux finance, fake science and a self proclaimed “mastery” of the universe by a relatively small handful of pathologically greedy power players, has practically undermined our collective conscience, as a species.

    An interesting read: (Wiki, on Wade) And Wade, on TED:

  • Blank Reg

    “…what that implies is that thousands of kids wake up every day in families that don’t pay their taxes, that aren’t part of the social contract, kids who grow up in a world where everything around them is saying that it’s okay to cheat the government and not pay your part and be outside of the system. ”

    I call bollocks. There is no “social contract”. Show me where I signed it, upon reaching adulthood. “The government” cheats all of us, all the time, out of our livelihoods, our ability to make our own free and sovereign choices, and even our very lives themselves. I “pay my part” by running a business, earning my own way, and not being a burden on anyone else. The benefits of being inside the system these days are far outweighed by the costs incurred by it for the average citizen. But as long as I’m not a burden to anyone else, I don’t grant to any third parties the right to a single minute of my life, except when the imposition is voluntary.

    I’m tired of hearing of all this “social contract” nonsense, when (a) it has no basis in common law, and (b) one of the alleged parties to it isn’t doing their part.

    that implies is that thousands of kids wake up every day in families
    that don’t pay their taxes, that aren’t part of the social contract,
    kids who grow up in a world where everything around them is saying that
    it’s okay to cheat the government and not pay your part and be outside
    of the system. – See more at:

    • Well said Blank Reg

      • William Scott

        I suspect the comments about pot and coca, along w/the “progressive politic perspective” isn’t winning many over here, in spite of an otherwise impressive interview and diverse and contributory career. I find the “drug use” viewpoint seemingly short- sided (as well as the Darwinian and global warming beliefs, in the TED talk) but then again I was five at the end of the ’60s and didn’t live in Columbia, etc. among the indigenous and “recreational” users, alike. Furthermore, we tend to forget that there are really three categories of “drug use” (i.e. recreational medicinal and spiritual…) although the latter two tended to overlap, until “government” corportists split them apart for control and profiteering purposes, in the early 20th Century.

    • Co-Signed

      I agree. Individuals opting out is a benefit for us all.

    • joe

      Fully agree. That’s where I quit reading. Communist academics are no less loathsome for their charming babble about getting high and shitting in the jungle.

  • nailheadtom

    One of your best interviews ever.

  • Echinopsis peruviana

    If coca were legalized, perhaps we would not see such a large market for cocaine HCL. The larger market would probably gravitate towards other coca products.

    In Europe before the Catholic Church enacted the Bavarian purity law, intoxicating drinks were fermented with psychoactive plants. To this day various bureaucrats control which kinds of substances can be consumed. Mega-corporations controlling the market have also reduced choices in many areas. Most of these industrial brews violate the purity law, as today’s law is structured to benefit the mega-corporatation’s profits. Despite the pretense, health and morality have little to do with these regulations.

    Ironically, the Pope endorsed Vin Mariani, a coca infused red wine in the 19th century. He claimed it would “Put some color in your cheeks”.

    Before condemning coca products, individuals might decide for themselves by preparing a hot mulled wine with coca leaves, spices, and brandy.

    Concerning the unjust prohibition psychoactive plants, it is not only the obvious stuff like cannabis and coca, but a long list of substances which are not permitted to be sold for human consumption. Many of them would make nice additions to a soft-drink or fermented beverage. Some are too extreme for general or even regular use, but this does not mean we should prohibit them. Instead we should empower individuals to make informed choices.

    “Colombia’s suffered such agonies because of our consumption of cocaine.”

    I disagree with blaming the consumer for prohibition’s negative consequences. The N. America users did not perpetrate the abuses, the state did. There are also the stories of Gary Webb, “ULTRA-Roundup”, etc. It all points back to state power.

  • I’m sorry, but anyone who says things like “the war on drugs is a failure” is fundamentally and monumentally ignorant of its purpose(s).

    In serving it’s function, it remains the most enduring success of the many wars against us declared by those who “hate us for our freedoms”, those would rule over us to their own advantage and our permanent harm.

    Start dealing with reality; the war on drugs has to end **BECAUSE** IT IS WORKING!