All of drug policy in one sentence

Megan McArdle: “There are no real happy answers here – only damage control.”

Megan McArdle sums it up: “There are no real happy answers here – only damage control.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

11 thoughts on “All of drug policy in one sentence”

  1. In that case, I choose the path that doesn’t corrupt cops, undermine foreign policy, poison race relations, and shred the Bill of Rights.

  2. We don’t even need damage control for drugs per se. We just need universal health care.

    And I’d change Warren Drugs’ phrase “poison race relations” to “destroy African-American lives and families with the current form of Jim Crow.” I know that he didn’t mean “poison race relations” this way, but it reminds me of the Nazis who, after Germany lost the war, said that it was time for the Nazis and the Jews to stop fighting with each other.

  3. I agree with McArdle’s sentiment. Mark’s headline contained a superfluous word: “drug”.

  4. Is there numerical evidence anywhere that the percentage of human beings (a) who consume mind/mood-altering substances of some type, be they mild or extreme (b) who consume _excess_ amounts of mind/mood-altering substances, damaging themselves and often others around them, has changed even one whit in the last 30,000 years?

    Since childhood I have seen incredible amounts of effort spent abstinence/shaming/prohibition/prosecution campaigns of one form or another – including the incredible human cost being paid by our current campaign of illegalization and incarceration – yet I have seen absolutely zero evidence that any more or fewer people are falling into categories (a) or (b) above. Even in our state, which is often called the meth capitol of the world and the damage wrecked by that substance is large and visible, I have to wonder how many people were pushed from mild users of mind/mood altering substances to abusers of meth by the unavailability of reasonable, safe, regulated, substances.


  5. The real dividing line in drug policy is not between “legalizers” and “drug warriors” (intellectually lazy insults, both) but between those who think there is a simple answer and those who know that life is complex and that to govern is to choose.

  6. I believe that currently illegal drugs should be treated the same way we treat alcohol. It’s that simple, and, if that makes me “legalizer,” then feel free to insult me with the term.

  7. OK, but drug policy has to be made. I foresee that some year soon, newly elected President Wisdom will make you her Drug . . . Monarch; her great prestige combined with yours will clearly carry both Congress and state governments along with what you recommend, including policy changes minor or fundamental. Your 21st Century Comprehensive Consciousness-Altering Drug Policy will be — what? Summarized in a few sentences, of course.

  8. Here’s a proposal for an admittedly less-than-comprehensive policy. This is informed by (among other things): (1) growing up in an alcoholic family; (2) three years directing a residential treatment program for adult opiate/multiple drug addictions; (3) 15 years working in the prevention field including editing a prevention journal in the 1980s; (4) extensive experience as a family therapist specializing in family conflict around adolescent/teen substance experimentation and abuse, and teaching graduate-level university course on Family Therapy of Substance Abuse; (5) profoundly beneficial personal experience with MDMA (Ecstasy); (6) very occasional and respectful ongoing relationship with Marijuana that includes awareness of both beneficial (useful insights) and deleterious effects (mind feeling muddy for several days after using); (7) Lifelong interest in the topic of drug use and drug policy that has included studying research past and present, with a particular interest in psychedelics/entheogens and their application to healing and spiritual growth.

    Policy proposals:

    Education: Frankly discuss benefits as well as risks associated with all classes of drugs, proceeding from the assumption that factual information is both more respectful of intelligence and more likely to support sound decision making, than is distorted, one-sided, and propagandistic information. Education should be dialogical and allow for the exchange of observations from those who are participating (e.g. in high schools discussion circles where it is OK to talk about drug use, and where acknowledging the interesting, beneficial, and fun aspects is respected just as much as the risky and damaging aspects).

    Psychedelics/Entheogens: The goal should include restoring these substances to their rightful role in human culture, with a recognition that their assistance in helping us to see beyond ordinary consciousness is perhaps critical to species survival. Policy: Legalize use of psychedelics in therapeutic, shamanic, and religious contexts. Decriminalize their use otherwise. Long-term vision: the emergence of cultural containers for their wise and appropriate use; widespread cultural understanding of what this constitutes and how it has been and can continue to be beneficial.

    Marijuana: Legalize use with restrictions similar to alcohol. My bet: use will increase slightly then level off as people find the particular way of using that works for them.

    Tobacco: In education, acknowledge traditional/sacred ways of using, otherwise policy as is.

    Heroin/Opioids: Legalize, dispense medically or clinically (e.g. specialized drug clinics).

    Amphetamine/Methamphetamines: Legalize, dispense medically or clinically.

    Cocaine: Legalize use with restrictions similar to alcohol.

    Crack Cocaine: I don’t know about this; it is a travesty that has emerged as a result of the war on drugs. In general, work toward restoring a respect for plant helpers/medicines when used as near to their natural form as possible.

    Inhalants: Current policy (make it difficult for kids to obtain them) seems OK to me.

    Tax revenue from all drugs: Used for education, research into medical/spiritual/educational uses of drugs, and to help subsidize a national health care system which includes comprehensive treatment for addictions of all types.

    I’ll add this observation: when I was working as a therapist with families in which young people were experimenting with drugs, in the great majority of cases the main damage done was not by the drug use per se, but by panicked parental reactions that were very damaging to family relationships and that alienated the child at a time when they needed more authenticity and intimacy. These parents’ reactions were universally well-intended but very poorly informed, which is to say rooted in generations of indoctrination with specious drug-war “facts.”

  9. I would like to see a drug policy which abandoned the goal of protecting people from themselves, and focused on protecting people from others. One which, in short, tried to see to it that, to the extent there are harms associated with drugs, they fall on those who have chosen them, not those who reject them. It seems to me that is the great shortcoming of prohibitionist approaches; They don’t so much reduce harm, (Might increase it in some cases.) as redistribute it away from people who’ve made self-destructive choices, to people who’ve made sensible choices.

  10. Keith Humphreys says:

    “The real dividing line in drug policy is not between “legalizers” and “drug warriors” (intellectually lazy insults, both) but between those who think there is a simple answer and those who know that life is complex and that to govern is to choose.”

    However, even in a copmlex situation, it can be clear that certain choices are worse than others.

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