Beyond Parody? 5 Times 'The Onion' Brilliantly Skewered the War on Drugs

When satire meets—and destroys—failed public policy...

The Onion's classic 1998 drug war headline
Photo Credit: The Influence

This article was originally published byThe Influence, a news site that covers the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow The Influence on Facebook or Twitter. 

America’s favorite snarky “news” source, the Onionhas never been short of ammunition when it comes to the War on Drugs. The only trouble is, in this field it can be hard to know when parody stops and reality begins… 

1. Drugs Now Legal If User Is Employed (March 27, 2002)

Like all the best satire, it’s barely satire. From the Onion:

“Seeking to ‘narrow the focus of the drug war to the true enemy,’ Congress passed a bill legalizing drug use for the gainfully employed Monday. ‘Stockbrokers, lawyers, English professors… you’re not the problem here,’ said DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson at a White House press conference. ‘If you are paying taxes and keeping your yard tidy, we’re not going to hassle you if you come home from a hard day of work and want to enjoy a little pot or blow.’

Also from the OnionNew Law Requires Welfare Recipients To Submit Sweat To Prove How Hard They’re Looking For Job (Aug. 6, 2014)

See real-life headline: Eleven GOP Governors Bravely Demand the Right to Know What’s in Poor People’s Urine

2. Nation’s Moms Invent New Recreational Drug To Worry About (May 10, 2012)

It seems like every week there’s a new media panic about the most recent crop of drugs being used “in growing numbers.”

Real-life headlines: Micro-Dosing is Hardly a Thing  and What’s Behind New York’s K2 Drug Panic?

3. Teen Sex Linked To Drugs And Alcohol, Reports Center for Figuring Out Really Obvious Things (May 1, 2002)

“Studies show.”

Real-life headline: Study Links Excessive Texting and Teen Sex, Boozing

4. A Timeline Of Marijuana Legalization (April 20, 2016)

“1933: The United States collectively decides against learning any lessons from the Prohibition era.

2026: Federal government begins mulling a tweak to its cannabis laws upon noticing majority of U.S. populace serving time on drug charges.”

Real-life headline: Global Commission Slams UNGASS 2016 Outcome That Strains the Credibility of International Law

5. Drugs Win Drug War (January 10, 1998)

Way back in 1998 (!) The Onion knew what it has taken us as a country 20-plus years since to sort of figure out…


Sarah Beller is a writer and social worker who lives in Massachusetts. Her work has also appeared in AlterNet, Salon, The Hairpin, The Toast and Psychology Tomorrow, among other publications.

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