Dan Baum: 'Smoke and Mirrors' Author, Drug-Policy Reform Advocate

Dan Baum: "We really should say legalize and regulate, not just legalize."

Dan Baum, the author of Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Policy of Failurepublished in 1996, passed away from brain cancer on October 8. He was 64.

Baum wrote in the book:

“At a time when the public debates whether gun laws and wetlands protection violate the Constitution, the War on Drugs concentrates unprecedented police power inside the Beltway, all but eliminating Fourth Amendment rights and turning the attorney general into a kind of urban viceroy who can mete out punishment without trial. The drug war clogs the courts to the point of breakdown. It keeps more Americans in federal prison for drug crime than were in for all crimes put together. It criminalizes a generation of African American men...”

The big revelation in Smoke and MIrrors was Baum's interview with Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman, who told him the targets of the drug war were Blacks (for heroin) and the anti-war left and hippies (for marijuana). "This interview," Baum said in the clip below in 2016, "not only changed the book I wrote, it changed my career ever since. This interview told me if you get people far enough way from the events they're describing, especially if they've done bad things, they want to talk about it, they want to get it off their chest. I think somebody finally gave Ehrlichman the chance to apologize."


In its review, the Los Angeles Times said Smoke and Mirrors reads like a "manifesto for legalization... [whose] heroes tend to be legalizers, like [then] Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke," adding: "His line of argument leads directly into the pro-legalization camp."

The reviewer deemed the book "worth reading. By showing how mad the drug war has become, it might help clear the way for a saner approach."

Baum was born in South Orange, New York. After a stint at The New Yorker, Baum took to Twitter to tell the story of why he was fired, 140 characters at a time. He and his wife Margaret L. Knox collaborated on Smoke and Mirrors and three other books, but she never took a byline.

"We really should say legalize and regulate, not just legalize," Baum said in the interview above. "You have to regulate how they're distributed. I personally would argue for state monopoly of distribution." 

Baum and Knox had moved to Boulder. He was enamored with marijuana legalization in Colorado. "It's an amazing thing to see," Baum raved. "Colorado has legalized and regulated marijuana in a pretty intelligent way and they deserve a lot of credit for it... That's an good abject lesson."

He called for full drug legalization here in 2016 and appeared in the documentary, Public Enemy Number One, in 2019.

Dan Baum's insight and opinions about drug policy will be missed.


Click here to subscribe to CelebStoner's weekly newsletter.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.