Is there a blue moon tonight?

Stop the presses! Nadelmann and Kleiman agree on something: the less said about drug policy in the political arena, the better.

There are more ice storms in Hades than there are instances in which Ethan Nadelmann and I agree about any drug policy question. But we seem to be in some agreement about the value of political attention to drug-policy issues:

Here’s the final paragraph of a Council on Foreign Relations “background Q & A” just posted:

Is the U.S. war on drugs losing steam?

Yes, to an extent. But given a lack of meaningful long-term statistics, general financial accountability, and also the presumed lack of long-term effectiveness of interdiction efforts, many experts say this might not be a bad thing. “The Bush administration has indeed put drugs on the backburner, which is mostly where they belong,” says Kleiman. “Current policies are no smarter than past policies, but they aren’t quite as loud.” In other words, better to spend less money than to simply waste it. Nadelmann agrees that the issue has been put on the backburner. “It’s a question of whether that’s a good or bad thing,” he says. “Given that what works is politically impossible, and what’s politically possible is destructive, the fact that the drug war now gets less attention is probably a good thing.”

Of course, I’d also like to hear less from the “drug policy reform” types such as Nadelmann, who have mostly succeeded in helping the drug warriors convince the voters that there’s no sensible middle ground between fighting the drug war in its current form and abolishing drug prohibitions entirely. In my dreamworld, the warriors and the reformers both quiet down and let the voices of the tiny band of drug policy analysts be heard. But then I wake up.

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:

6 thoughts on “Is there a blue moon tonight?”

  1. Drug policy may be on the back burner from a policy standpoint, but that means precious little to the hundreds of thousands who are having their lives destroyed by the drug war, between prison, loss of rights, the destruction of families and communities, and an escalating war mentality by law enforcement.
    I find it hard to understand how you can berate the "drug policy reform" types who have done more to change the opinions of votes than anyone else over the past years — or haven't you noticed 11 states with medical marijuana laws, 46% of Americans in a survey saying that states should be able to regulate marijuana like alcohol, etc. Additionally, the drug policy reform movement is not the wild-eyed-long-haired hippies that you so detested in your youth. They're now people like Walter Cronkite, William F. Buckley, Jr., and George Soros. The people and the thinkers are moving toward reform. The ones who are behind are the politicians…
    .. and some of the "academics," who continue to come out with statement after statement clearly showing how current policy is failing, but being completely unable to suggest an alternative other than "do… less," or "somehow find a way to make prohibition work." We've been listening to the drug policy analysts. When are you going to say something?
    The drug policy reformers have been providing clear alternatives to failed policies for years, and yes, they may be politically impossible now, but that doesn't mean that you can't lay the groundwork for the future. If you've got a real, specific, workable alternative to current policies, we'd LOVE to hear it.

  2. The very concept of a drug policy for adults is offensive. One need not be a libertarian to believe that everyone should have a right to personal autonomy — a right to do whatever he or she wants to do with his or her body, whether it be to use condoms, have abortions, end one's life, or ingest or inhale whatever one wants. If the government can tell you what drugs not to take, then it can monitor your entire diet. Well-meaning people like Kleiman exhibit the same arrogance as evil people who deny cancer patients marijuana in thinking that they can set drug policy for anyone but themselves and their children.

  3. I guess thats a good thing… wanting "drug policy reform types" to quiet down. It means we are getting louder.
    Mark, when SWAT teams quit knocking down doors and tossing flash grenades into the homes of sleeping people because they may be gardening… I might quiet down but I can't speak for my friends. Felony gardening is a ridiculous notion. Ridiculous as the idiocy behind cannabis prohibition.
    I mean… Whats with that? God made a mistake? "Oops…"?
    Lets see… George Washington and Tom Jefferson were firm believers in cannabis but Harry Anslinger was a bigoted desk-jockey lifer with too much power. He was a liar and provided perjured testimony before congress so we'll follow him. Oookay… like, whatever.
    It is interesting to note, Mark, that whereas Nadelmann is (and there is a looong list of folks who are also) eagerly awaiting a shot at debating the Prohibitionists they aren't eager to face us. How about our panel vs their panel on prime time network TV? Calvina Fay ran away at CPAC… John Walters doesn't do impromptu anything lest the SSDP and DPA show up and upstage him…
    Besides, the Prohibs lost the WO(s)D when the internet hit its stride. They can't win in the print media… unless you call Michael Barnes' *coughBScough* oped in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution a position worth defending? Can't blame 'em from shying away from television (except, of course, when they pay producers to sneak the "just-say-no" message into TV scripts…)
    Help us out and maybe we'll go away…

  4. Irrespective of the rich nuances of any realistic policy, there's only a binary choice available with regards to its fundamental color: acceptance or rejection. Acceptance can range from enthusiastic encouragement to grudging tolerance (like with cannabis & mushrooms in the Netherlands). Although rejection also sports a similar gradient (Singapore vs. Portugal), I'm not convinced that some of the harms can be mitigated while maintaining the current base attitude.

  5. "The Bush administration has indeed put drugs on the back burner" certainly conjures up visions. Or at least smells.

  6. Well, a somewhat larger band of analysts, the American Public Health Association, did a comprehensive literature review about ten years ago, and subsequently passed a resolution at their general meeting that cocaine and marijuana should be legalized. This, of course, is in line with the recommendations of the Shaeffer Commission, the LaGuardia Report, and the Indian Hemp Commission. To mention only a few.
    In my rural county, and the evidence is that this is widespread in America, poor people cannot get pain medications. This has a number of follow-on consequences, such as people self-medicating with alcohol and cancer patients wanting to die because living is so painful.
    As a health care professional I do not regard this as a small problem, which leads me to wonder why the band of drug policy analysts qualified to comment would be so "tiny". If indeed there is some super-qualified elite who know and see all, surely they must realize that a social policy disaster of these dimensions will eventually provoke a great deal of comment.

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