cover image Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs

Antony Loewenstein. Scribe, $19 trade paper (352p) ISBN 9781947534940

In this vivid, partisan piece of reportage, Australian journalist Loewenstein (Disaster Capitalism) depicts the catastrophic human consequences of the U.S.-led war on drugs and advocates for the legalization of all illicit substances. Loewenstein argues that America’s prohibitionist policy serves not to counter abuse or impede trafficking, but rather to create corrupt “narco states” that are complicit with the federal government’s foreign policy goals. The book’s strongest sections feature human rights advocates from Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, and the Philippines who have been targeted, Loewenstein writes, by cartels as well as the CIA, DEA, and their own governments. Meanwhile, the appetite for narcotics in Western countries only grows stronger, and punitive policies toward drug users, mass incarceration, and inequitable criminal justice systems further oppress marginalized members of society, Loewenstein contends. He interviews people struggling with addiction and associated traumas, but undercuts these moving testimonies with blithe statements such as “for the vast bulk of people, drug taking is a normal part of life with no negative consequences.” As a result, his policy recommendations feel less than authoritative. Readers inclined to take a skeptical view of the drug war, however, will welcome Loewenstein’s advocacy. (Nov.)