The war over the war on drugs

Margaret Wente’s column in the Globe and Mail considers why drug policy debates are so unreasonable.

Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail reflects on the latest harm-minimization victory in Canada: the decision of the Supreme Court that the national government can’t shut down Vancouver’s safe-injection site. But the column is a really a meditation on the sheer venom and unreasonableness that characterizes drug-policy debates.

Wente credits me with something I have no memory of having said or written, but will gladly endorse:

Sometimes I think that the legalizers and the drug warriors have a secret arms-control treaty, in which each side renounces the use of factually and logically sound arguments.

Update Link to Globe and Mail added, thanks to commenter Dave Empey. And commenter hilker finds the source of the quote, from this very website.

That should tell you what you need to know about the validity of eyewitness testimony. Presented with that quote cold, I would have cheerfully sworn that I never said it. “Sorta sounds like me, but I didn’t say it.”

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:

8 thoughts on “The war over the war on drugs”

  1. True that, and such peculiar alliances are the way of the world. A large-scale example: I believe that the ardent Cold Warrior insider groups who controlled policy for four decades in Moscow and Washington were very much dependent on one another for their continued existence and power, and the more self-aware among them knew it.

  2. I think that Mark’s approach is a bit too much of the “plague on both houses” variety. My own take on the secret arms-control agreement is a bit different:

    The drug warriors solemnly renounce, abjure, and disclaim any and all factually and logically sound arguments.

    The drug legalizers solemnly affirm that all arguments are created equal, whether sound or unsound.

    In other words, the legalizers are no worse than your average lawyer. The warriors are considerably worse.

    1. “The drug warriors solemnly renounce, abjure, and disclaim any and all factually and logically sound arguments.”

      To wreak clear and major evil on the world.

      Also, their consistent response to things producing far more harm than good is to double down on them.

  3. I find it ironic that in Margaret Wente’s plague-on-both-your-houses screed, the faults she lays at the side of the “legalizers” (stolen television sets and keeping drug dealers in business) are both actually the result of prohibition.

  4. Mark, where are the logical faults with or Transform’s Blueprint ( Prohibitionists have had decades and million upon 100s of millions of dollars in government grants to provide a coherent rationale for prohibition, but it hasn’t happened yet. Even you seem to rely on unfounded speculation when you assume that prohibition is necessary to prevent increased drug use. Drug reformers have clearly documented the extremely serious harms of prohibition.

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