Better drug policy in nineteen easy steps

I have a drug-policy essay in the latest American Interest. Here’s a summary and a link to the full text.

Well, maybe not so easy.

I have an essay in the current issue of The American Interest intended as a standing-on-one-foot guide to practical drug policy reform. The introduction lays out what I take to be the central facts; what follows is a set of fairly specific recommendations for action, intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive.

There’s something in the essay, I trust, to offend almost everybody, but most of it reflects a near-consensus among the small tribe of academic drug policy analysts. (Most of my colleagues disagree with me about eliminating the minimum drinking age, and I’m just about alone in having any interest in hallucinogen policy.)

As a teaser, here are the specific policy recommendations:


Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers.

Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume.

Break up flagrant drug markets using low-arrest crackdowns.


Encourage problem drug users to quit without formal treatment.

Pressure drug-using offenders to stop.

Expand opiate maintenance.

Work on immunotherapies.


Say more than “No.”

Don’t rely on DARE.

Prevent drug dealing among kids.

Alcohol and tobacco

Deny alcohol to problem drinkers.

Raise the tax on alcohol, especially beer.

Eliminate the minimum drinking age.

Encourage less risky forms of nicotine use.


Let pot-smokers grow their own.

Get drug enforcement out of the way of pain relief.

Create a regulatory framework for performance-enhancing chemicals.

Figure out what hallucinogens are good for, and don’t let the drug laws interfere with religious freedom.

Stop sacrificing foreign policy and human rights objectives to drug control.

Footnote I didn’t choose, and wouldn’t have chosen, either the title or the photos. Other than that, everything in the piece is mine; Adam Garfinkel and his crew were both generous with editorial suggestions and non-directive about substance.

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: