What does a “drug peace” look like?

End prohibition? And replace it with what, precisely?

Ezra Klein approvingly quotes the report of the collection of former Pooh-Bahs calling themselves the Global Commission on Drug Policy:

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

Ezra then adds, in his own voice: “A new approach, one based more on realistic interventions than martial metaphors, is needed,” and asks “What alignment of political forces and events would be needed for America to seriously rethink its drug laws?”

That question assumes that there’s a well-defined alternative to the “drug war.” Despite the obfuscations of the Global Commission, no one has actually come up with a convincing Plan B, unless you think alcohol and tobacco are good models.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a Plan B: my preferred drug policy would be very different from current policy. But nothing the Global Commission recommends – more treatment, more “prevention,” less hassling of users – would substantially change the underlying picture.

If we want fewer dealers in prison and fewer billions in illicit earnings, we have to enable licit commerce – or some close substitute for commerce – and no one knows how to do that without greatly increasing problem consumption. (Though Jim Leitzel gives it a good try.)

I’d bite the bullet on cannabis (and, for different reasons, radically change hallucinogen policy). For cocaine, heroin, and meth, the right reply to the anti-drug-war crowd is “Show us the policies!” So far, they’re just bluffing.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

40 thoughts on “What does a “drug peace” look like?”

  1. “Show us the policies!”

    Full. Legalization.

    Given the extent of alcohol and tobacco use, I should think a jihad against similar policies for these other drugs is a bit misplaced. The social cost of legal alcohol is immense, but it is a cost we have decided to live with in the context of regulated legalization. When you can demonstrate that legalized, but regulated, heroin would have a similar social cost, I might listen.

    The current social cost of the War on (some people who use) Drugs is, IMHO simply unacceptable.

  2. Whatever plan or policy might be offered by drug pacifists, it seems they would fail if they don’t include plans to compassionately protect the workers in the illicit drug industry.

    Far from failed, the “drug war” is a massively profitable industry, wherein the “supply and distribution” team competes earnestly with the “law enforcement” team. The enforcement team would no more survive actually defeating and dismantling the supply team than would the Chicago Bears, if they finally brought an end to the Detroit Lions. The couriers, street level dealers, prison guards, testing lab technicians, gunmen (on both sides), probation clerks, growers, financiers, dog handlers, and corrupt petty officials would all be threatened by any “reform.” Their bosses and owners, faced with losing those billions in drug sales, civil forfeitures, fees, and equipment purchases, would fight tooth and nail.

    Public policy discussions seem never to mention all those who benefit from the drug wars. They talk about the money being “wasted” on “insane” or “failed” efforts, and argue about policy changes that don’t change the fundamental economics, the same way NFL fans might debate the merits of one or another offensive strategy or lineup. Why not include the harm that any reform would do to the industry’s current workers in the calculations for any “harm reduction” scheme? If we sue the industry for peace, perhaps they’ll negotiate.

  3. I would not say that alcohol, or tobacco, or even tobacco pre-1960, is a GOOD model; I would, however, argue that they are better models–less overall harm, and a greater proportion borne by user rather than non-users.

  4. Sam, tell that to all the victims of drunken homicide, drunken rape, drunken assault, and drunken driving. By any reasonable metric – including the number of incarcerations – alcohol does more damage than all the illicit drugs combined.

  5. By any reasonable metric – including the number of incarcerations – alcohol does more damage than all the illicit drugs combined.

    I’d be surprised if you could back up the assertion about the number of incarcerations, but I agree with the rest of the statement. However, I don’t hold the notion that alcohol prohibition would be any sort of improvement. Legalization and strict regulation is the best model we have. Absolute prohibition is the worst.

  6. I’d argue a “drug peace” would be a political climate where bureaucracies like the ONDCP & DEA could openly consider/study a wider range of policies (for instance Mark’s) or simply be re-purposed with the explicit task of designing policy to minimize public harm (including that of users). An end to the silly roadblocking of the petition to reschedule cannabis, and more research freedom w/r/t illicits.

    These ideas don’t involve legalizing anything, yet they don’t seem even remotely imaginable in the short term. Politicians and appointees in government agencies are never going to get us there; only a groundswell of public interest can shift the course, and while we complain that organizations like LEAP and GCDP don’t bring the policy wonks to the table, they are actively making even meager policy shifts like Mark’s more palatable.

    Mark, why does, e.g., UK Transform’s Blueprint not count as “showing you the policies”?

  7. alcohol does more damage than all the illicit drugs combined.

    Alcohol’s unique in terms of type of intoxication produced, as well as other aspects. A user in a legal opioid regime won’t mirror the sequelae of alcohol use. For stimulants, milder forms and some minor breakthroughs to combat drug comedown and development of tolerance should ameliorate the major adverse features of prolonged use. As with now, the greatest danger of acute bio-toxicity will remain polydrug use, and that of behavioral toxicity, alcohol (alone or with stimulants).

  8. Not exactly on topic, but I tried two pharmacies tonight for my generic 120 mg pseudoephedrine. One said they’d been out for “a while.” Without this *allergy* treatment (for which I show id and which I take according to the directions), I feel like a zombie.

    Are the feds up to something??? Now I have to spend half the day tomorrow tracking it down. Harrumph.

    Y’all are getting a little abstruse for me, but I gather, some are asking why there couldn’t be happy pills with no side effects? I would like to know too.

  9. It’s pretty simply Mark. IV preparations of methamphetamine, cocaine and diamorphine should be available on prescription for those who are severely drug dependent IV drug users. For the others who want to use these substances for non-therapeutic purposes (by snorting, sniffing, smoking or swallowing) they should be available for purchase from pharmacies, heavily taxed, and come in generic packets with big health warnings (i.e. IT IS ILLEGAL TO DRIVE WHILST IMPAIRED, THIS DRUG IS ADDICTIVE, THIS DRUG CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH), usage instructions and contraindications. Pharmacies are a good place to sell drugs because there is an incentive for employees to check ID (the store gets fined, you get fired). Prohibit all forms of promotion, in-store, mass media and we’re good to go.

  10. It’s a very good thing that these issues are being addressed more in the public discourse. The exact shape of better drug policy could and should take many forms, but what’s important is that we do something different.

  11. “Sam, tell that to all the victims of drunken homicide, drunken rape, drunken assault, and drunken driving. “

    I’ll meet your drunken driving, and raise with the militarization of police, funding world-wide terrorism and organized crime, and the ‘drug exception’ to the Constitution.

  12. Alcohol is a factor in the following

    * 73% of all felonies * 73% of child beating cases * 41% of rape cases * 80% of wife battering cases * 72% of stabbings * 83% of homicides.

    According to the Australian National Drug Research Institute (2003): “Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs are prematurely killing around seven million people worldwide each year, and robbing tens of millions more of a healthy life. The research into the global burden of disease attributable to alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs found that in 2000, tobacco use was responsible for 4.9 million deaths worldwide, equating to 71 percent of all drug-related deaths. Around 1.8 million deaths were attributable to the use of alcohol (26 percent of all drug-related deaths), and illicit drugs (heroin, cocaine and amphetamines) caused approximately 223,000 deaths (3 percent of all drug-related deaths).”

    According to DrugRehabs.Org, national mortality figures for 2009 were: tobacco 435,000; poor diet and physical inactivity 365,000; alcohol 85,000; microbial agents 75,000; toxic agents 55,000; motor vehicle crashes 26,347; adverse reactions to prescription drugs 32,000; suicide 30,622; incidents involving firearms 29,000; homicide 20,308; sexual behaviors 20,000; all illicit drug use, direct and indirect 17,000; and marijuana 0.

    Apart from the fact that legal drugs kill far more people than all the illegal drugs combined, debating whether a particular drug is harmless or not is missing the whole point. Are drugs like Heroin, Meth or Alcohol dangerous? It simply doesn’t matter, because if we prohibit them then we sure as hell know that it makes a bad situation far worse. If someone wants to attempt to enhance or destroy their lives with particular medicines or poisons, that should be their business, not anybody else’s. Their lives aren’t ours to direct. And anyway, who wants to give criminals a huge un-taxed, endless revenue stream?

    A great many of us are slowly but surely wising up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco, clearly two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to your absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

  13. Are you really that ignorant, Mark, that you’re not yet aware of Transform’s outstanding book titled, After the War on Drugs: Blueprints for Regulation, provides specific proposals for how drugs could be regulated in the real world?

    The book is available for free online. If you would like to read it then here it is: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/blueprint%20download.htm

    It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that most of the ‘at present’ prohibited (available 24/7 at a dealer near you) drugs are derived from fast growing weeds like the cannabis plant, the poppy and the coca bush. These can all be cultivated legally and easily in many different regions on our planet without the aid of terrorist organizations.




    The at-present illegal (non-patentable) Drugs may well have risks, but the results of their use are clearly not nearly as negative as prohibition itself.

    We’re talking deaths, broken families, economic waste and “loss of rights”. The vast majority of the people who are suffering and dying in this war are not suffering and dying from the drugs themselves, but from prohibition.

    When illegal drug dealers fight over turf or against government forces, their neighbors or innocent by-standers are often killed in the process. This present situation is not un-like what people suffered during alcohol Prohibition in the US. When drug users are killed by tainted drugs, it is due to prohibition. When they die from overdoses because they were afraid to seek help, it is also due prohibition. When our streets become over-run by thugs, it is due to prohibition. When terrorists and criminals are gifted the 300 – 500,000 million dollar market in narcotics, it is also due to prohibition.

    Kindly Join us in reality, Mark!

  14. “Their lives aren’t ours to direct.”

    That, I think is precisely the point where the drug warriors part company from the drug legalizers. They do think other people’s lives are theirs’ to direct.

  15. Mark, it’s true that visualizing a ‘drug peace’ is hard for us. It’d be like visualizing a USA where the military budget was half of what it is now, and where ‘national security’ isn’t considered to be a license for the government to do as it wishes. Where a president who plays the games that our last several presidents have would be swiftly impeached and removed from office, for playing dictator.

    A first step, a very first step, would be for those people whose job it is to think about these things, and who have tenure protecting them from easy retaliation, would start thinking about this, and advocating for it. Where ‘drug policy’ thinkers aren’t thinking about ways to repaint massive prisons with smiley faces, so to speak, while preserving the majority of oppression and the waste of lives and money.

    Do you know of any such people, Mark?

  16. By any reasonable metric – including the number of incarcerations – alcohol does more damage than all the illicit drugs combined.

    I entirely agree, on direct harms at least. (I’m not certain how to count the general erosion of public trust in the police, heavily driven by the war on Drugs, in the harms category.) But I would argue that per use, or per user, alcohol does relatively less harm than most other drugs.

    The question isn’t “is there a policy that can prevent all harm?”; the answer to that question is pretty certainly “no”. The question is “between alcohol (lots of drunken fights, a significant number of lives destroyed by overuse, and etc) and cocaine and heroin (lots of corrupt police, active war in Mexico and Afghanistan, a great deal of disparity between the treatment of poor and not-poor offenders, extreme difficulty in getting medically-appropriate pain control), which is the less-harmful model?”

  17. Still a prohibitionist at heart,eh?

    Oh well. I prefer you to the hardcore drug warriors, of course, but you’re still doing it wrong.

  18. I don’t know any drug policy experts personally, so I may be off-base, but I suspect that a drug policy expert cannot support complete legalization, because to apply the alcohol model to drugs would be, in effect, to do away with drug policy, rendering the drug policy expert’s expertise of little value. Could you imagine an architect supporting a policy of no new buildings?

  19. It’s hard for me to believe no one has talked about a coherent set of alternative policies in Mark’s hearing.

    My suggestion would be to address drug abuse as a public health problem, with law enforcement involvement occasionally involved.

    – Rehab services should be available to everyone, no waiting lists and no financial barriers.
    – Where legal use causes illegal behavior (e.g. drunk driving), there should be vigorous enforcement*, and sentences should include closely supervised compliance with drug treatment. When I worked as a nurse with drug addicts, court ordered inpatient treatment was the turning point for many.
    – Illegal behavior includes child abuse and neglect. In my community we could do a much better job of getting children out of dangerous homes quickly. Child protective services need more resources and more support whether we legalize drugs or not.
    – Outlaw advertising of the legal drugs that are known to cause public health problems.
    – Where higher prices can be shown to reduce the number of new users, tax the drugs.

    *An anecdote: the daughter of a friend of mine had her car wrecked by a drunk driver. He was driving without a license, since it had been revoked for drunk driving. He wouldn’t have hit her car, except that he was trying to evade a police car that was about to pull him over for drunk driving. My friend observed this guy driving while awaiting trial. It was his fifth offense, give or take. So when I say “vigorous enforcement” I mean, not like we did with that guy.

  20. A big part of “drug peace” would involve demilitarizing the fight against drugs. Just as Obama has talked about pursuing terrorists through the criminal justice system rather than by invading and occupying countries at random, imagine if we stopped funding local police departments to wage counter-insurgency warfare and went after drug crimes by less spectacularly violent methods. It’s not like there isn’t enforcement money. After that, maybe we start dealing with punishment/treatment issues.

  21. Wouldn’t it be great if we had fifty or so governmental entitities that could experiment with different approaches to see what works rather than coming up with a single overarching policy nationwide? Too bad we don’t have that in the United States.

    Enlightened sarcasm aside, here’s my question for Mark:

    How much does Federal prohibition and Federal interdiction/eradication efforts contribute to the parts of the current regime you like (i.e. higher cost of drugs, more difficulty obtaining them)? I suspect that it’s not nearly as much as local enforcement. In that case, why can’t you make a full-throated defense for devolving responsibility for drug policy to the states?

  22. In response to the “Show us the policies” which has been nicely answered above, here’s another one:

    It would be possible to create a world in which drug taking and drug selling were both freely practiced and in which the state’s only concerns with drug abuse were:
    ensuring that drugs sold for nonmedical as well as medical purposes are properly labeled and free of adulteration
    encouraging people to be moderate in their drug consumption
    assisting people who wanted help in recovering from substance-abuse disorders
    providing, under general “social safety net” provisions, income support to those impoverished by their own drug taking or by that of the family bread winners
    making the physical and social environment safer for, and from, those under the influence
    This might be called a “no coercion” drug policy.

    This policy suggestion was written by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angel Hawken in “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

  23. Mark, you state that it’s not possible to find out how much drug abuse current policies actually prevent. But that’s simply not true; we have expert eye-witness accounts from our last failed experiment with alcohol prohibition that usage rates not only exploded but people started drinking much younger and much harder after Prohibition was implemented. If, as you claim, you are an expert in the field of substance use/abuse/addiction, then why are you not familiar with the Senate Hearings of 1926?

    Here is part of the testimony of Judge Alfred J Talley,

    “For the first time in our history, full faith and confidence in and respect for the hitherto sacred Constitution of the United States has been weakened and impaired because this terrifying invasion of natural rights has been engrafted upon the fundamental law of our land, and experience has shown that it is being wantonly and derisively violated in every State, city, and hamlet in the country.”

    “It has made potential drunkards of the youth of the land, not because intoxicating liquor appeals to their taste or disposition, but because it is a forbidden thing, and because it is forbidden makes an irresistible appeal to the unformed and immature. It has brought into our midst the intemperate woman, the most fearsome and menacing thing for the future of our national life.”

    “It has brought the sickening slime of corruption, dishonor, and disgrace into every group of employees and officials in city, State, and Federal departments that have been charged with the enforcement of this odious law.”


    And the following paragraphs are from WALTER E. EDGE’s testimony, a Senator from New Jersey:

    “Any law that brings in its wake such wide corruption in the public service, increased alcoholic insanity, and deaths, increased arrests for drunkenness, home barrooms, and development among young boys and young women of the use of the flask never heard of before prohibition can not be successfully defended.”

    “I unhesitatingly contend that those who recognize existing evils and sincerely endeavor to correct them are contributing more toward temperance than those who stubbornly refuse to admit the facts.”

    “The opposition always proceeds on the theory that give them time and they will stop the habit of indulging in intoxicating beverages. This can not be accomplished. We should recognize our problem is not to persist in the impossible, but to recognize a situation and bring about common-sense temperance through reason.”

    “This is not a campaign to bring back intoxicating liquor, as is so often claimed by the fanatical dry. Intoxicating liquor is with us to-day and practically as accessible as it ever was. The difference mainly because of its illegality, is its greater destructive power, as evidenced on every hand. The sincere advocates of prohibition welcome efforts for real temperance rather than a continuation of the present bluff.”


    And here is Julien Codman’s testimony, who was a member of the Massachusetts bar.

    “we will produce additional evidence on this point, that it is not appropriate legislation to enforce the eighteenth amendment; that it has done incredible harm instead of good; that as a temperance measure it has been a pitiable failure; that it as failed to prevent drinking; that it has failed to decrease crime; that, as a matter of fact, it has increased both; that it has promoted bootlegging and smuggling to an extent never known before”

    “We believe that the time has come for definite action, but it is impossible to lay before Congress any one bill which, while clearly within the provisions of the Constitution, will be a panacea for the evils that the Volstead Act has caused. We must not be vain enough to believe, as the prohibitionists do, that the age-old question of the regulation of alcohol can be settled forever by the passage of a single law. With the experience of the Volstead law as a warning, it behooves us to proceed with caution, one step at a time, to climb out of the legislative well into which we have been pushed.”

    “If you gentlemen are satisfied, after hearing the evidence supplemented by the broad general knowledge which each of you already possesses, that the remedy that will tend most quickly to correct the wretched social conditions that now exist, to promote temperance, find to allay the discontent and unrest that the Volstead Act has caused, is to be found in the passage of one of the proposed bills legalizing the production of beer of an alcoholic content of 4 per cent or less. We do not claim that it will do away with all the evils produced by attempted prohibition, but it would be a step in the right direction.”


  24. Mark says: Sam, tell that to all the victims of drunken homicide, drunken rape, drunken assault, and drunken driving. By any reasonable metric – including the number of incarcerations – alcohol does more damage than all the illicit drugs combined.

    That, of course, does not comprise the entire calculus. Does alcohol do more damage than the prohibition of all illicit drugs combined? I’d hazard a guess that the families of those killed in Mexican NarcoWars or of those locked away in our massive prison system might answer with a definitive “no”.

    Even if we assume the paternalist harm-reduction perspective is the correct one here, the entire cost-benefit analysis must include both harms caused by drugs themselves and harms caused by punishing the use or sale of those drugs. If saying that “alcohol ruins lives” was the end of the argument, then the solution is easy: bring back alcohol prohibition. I doubt a rational analysis would show such a solution resulting in less overall harm than keeping the current alcohol policy intact.

  25. (Kleiman): “If we want fewer dealers in prison and fewer billions in illicit earnings, we have to enable licit commerce – or some close substitute for commerce – and no one knows how to do that without greatly increasing problem consumption.
    “Knows” sets the bar too high. Perhaps we can have legalization with lower “problem consumption” on two conditions: we measure “increasing” from a lower baseline and we expand the time between the measurement of the current rate and the post-legalization rate. Consider the second point first: (Some) people enjoy base jumping, but few indulge in this sport without parachutes. The OD rate/time curve may trend up at first and fall as two effects dominate: (1) abuse-prone individuals subtract themselves from the population and fail to reproduce and (2) culture evolves as information on the harmful effects of abuse accumulates. Currently, much of this information goes unrecorded because prohibition inhibits open discussion by and about addicted individuals.

    To my first point: We have a way to reduce drug abuse by youth immediately and over the long term; subsidize parent control of school. In Hawaii, juvenile arrests for drug possession and drug promotion fall in summer, when school is not in session. As always, “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment (e.g., a competitive market in goods and services) can answer. A State-monopoly enterprise, such as the US K-12 school system, is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design. I expect also that the expansion of opportunities for on-the-job training that would attend repeal of child labor laws and minimum wage laws would reduce juvenile drug abuse.

  26. Malcolm Kirkpatrick, some fool is signed your name to the above post in an attempt to discredit you.

    Abuse-prone individuals do not “fail to reproduce.” They often have children who are abused, neglected, and become drug addicts themselves. The fantasy that addicts magically make the problem smaller, by their self-destructive behavior, is the opposite of what happens in reality. And that’s not even considering the damage to bystanders outside the abuser’s immediate family.

    As for repealing child labor laws, well, now it’s going to be obvious to everyone that your post was a satire. You may as well suggest cannibalism.

  27. Child labor laws that protected children from having to work in coal mines and textile mills now protects them from working in air conditioned, OSHA regulated workplaces.

  28. Ha. I’d love to find a job in an “air conditioned, OSHA regulated workplace[s].” Good luck, little uneducated child. (Parents have to *pay* for child care for a reason, you know. Seems like some of you must have been pretty hands-off parents to not know that.)

    But, I think Mark was just pointing out that the legalizers, and I am pretty much one myself, perhaps don’t grapple with the crimes associated with drug abuse. Now, is it fair to ask that they do so? I’m not so sure. The whole point of being an addict is that the law doesn’t stop you.

  29. NCG, I think we will have properly grappled with the crimes of the intoxicated, when committing a crime while intoxicated lands the addict in rehab. We fail if committing a crime while intoxicated gets the addict punished, but not treated for the underlying addiction. We agree that the threat of punishment has little effect.

  30. I think I can actually answer this intelligently and WITHOUT defaulting to policies I necessarily would favor in writing our drug laws.

    But it seems to me there’s a distinction between “drug prohibition” and “the war on drugs”.

    We have lots of laws that we don’t fully enforce. We have, for instance, obscenity prohibition in most states and jurisdictions, but we don’t spend lots of time and effort and resources raiding porn producers or prosecuting video stores. It happens every once in awhile, but it is not frequent. We don’t have a War on Obscenity. We have laws against it.

    There’s no reason, quite apart from the issue of whether we ever legalize particular drugs, we couldn’t end the “War” on drugs. Pull our troops out of Columbia. Stop interdictions at the border. Stop drug raids and abuses of the Fourth Amendment. End drug testing requirements. Abolish DARE instruction in schools.

    We would still have laws against drugs. The police could still arrest drug users and drug dealers if they were contributing to urban blight or if people were complaining. But we would no longer be fighting a war.

    And seriously, again, whatever you think about proposals to legalize, Professor Kleiman’s premise is false– there’s no reason why we have to have the level and intensity and global nature of drug enforcement we have now. We have plenty of laws against plenty of things without that level of and commitment to enforcement.

  31. Don: I may be a legalizer, but that in no way should be taken to mean a free pass for people who do bad things while high or drunk.

    If that’s what it means to you — and I gather this is what Mark is against – then I guess I am *not* a legalizer. Perhaps I am rapidly becoming an ex-legalizer. Or, a neo-enforcer???

    But, I think we are going down a troll-way. No one else I know who is against the war on drugs thinks that addicts should be absolved of violent crimes!!! What an idea.

    Oh, and the income support was a howler too. In the US??? Please.

  32. Don: I didn’t mean to imply that you personally are a troll! Sorry, that was careless of me.

    I just meant that going down that particular path would be akin to being misdirected by a troll (we have some of those here)>

  33. “We have, for instance, obscenity prohibition in most states and jurisdictions, but we don’t spend lots of time and effort and resources raiding porn producers or prosecuting video stores.”

    I suspect that’s because such laws are the lingering remnant of a time when the 1st amendment protection of pornography was much less robust, and are preserved only by a policy of systematic non-enforcement, in much the same way laws mandating segregation are still on the books in many places, and simply being ignored rather than formally repealed. Rather than a deliberate policy of having the law, but virtually never enforcing it.

    As a general matter, having laws on the books which are rarely enforced is a very bad idea, because it opens the door to selective prosecution as a means of harassment. Laws should be enforced routinely, or not at all. Not kept around unenforced, for the authorities to use as a cudgel on somebody they don’t like, who’s only doing what others are getting away with.

  34. NCG, thanks, I knew you weren’t calling me a troll. I know I’m guilty of responding to them at times.

    Brett, I agree with you. Unenforced laws are an invitation to selective enforcement, which we have enough of already. I think Dilan’s suggestion to ease up on enforcement ignores the motivations that apply to the enforcers. As long as we have elected sheriffs and prosecutors, and laws against drugs, there will be a temptation to build a political career out of jailing “undesirable” types on drug charges.

  35. I don’t deny that laws can be arbitrarily enforced. What I am saying is that we have many laws that, unlike drug laws, are not MAXIMALLY enforced. We are not at “war” with everything we make illegal.

    You guys are buying into Prof. Kleiman’s false dichotomy. The issue of whether there should be a drug WAR is a separate question from legalization. It’s possible for drugs to be illegal and yet for us not to be lying to kids, violating the Fourth Amendment willy nilly, and fighting undeclared foreign wars. That would be a cease fire in the War on Drugs, and it is a possible policy choice.

  36. Dilan, such an approach would leave intact the huge black-market markups of drugs, and thus the profit motive for organized crime. Users and addicts would still have to acquire their drugs of unknown provenance/quality from criminals. Addicts would still indulge in acquisitive crime to pay for the drugs. Gangs would still fight for territory, and corrupt LEO in order to carry on their trade. And if the laws are still on the books, then dealers and users will still be arrested and prosecuted. All your proposal does is seemingly remove the vehemence from political rhetoric, but not even that. As long as the US policy goal is to eliminate all currently illicit drug use, prevention a.k.a propaganda will still be employed. And such propaganda will need to be intense and hyperbolic to pacify the drug warriors. If that policy goal were repudiated, then prohibition will overtly seem like an unjust policy. And the drug warriors can’t let that happen.

  37. Maybe we’re not that far apart. I can agree that a possible policy choice, is dialing back the drug war and stopping the associated abuses, at least at the federal level.

    In this theoretical future, when facts are returned to their rightful place in public discussion, I think questions are going to be asked for which legalization is going to be the only sensible answer, questions like “Tell me again why marijuana is on Schedule 1?” and “Why is it legal to be intoxicated on alcohol, in my private home, but not on (insert mind-altering chemical here)?” It’s hard to imagine a political climate in which the drug war is abandoned, but legalization is still beyond the horizon.

    More to the point of the original post, a viable future policy can’t be that we just stop what we’re doing now. We have to take new actions to reduce the demand for drugs in the first place. Several of my suggestions above could be implemented immediately, and could produce results before ending the drug war becomes politically possible.

  38. One idea would be that we allow experimentation of hard drug use under supervision, and we make possible to take out a licence to use without supervision. I know it leaves a lot to be desired, but it might not be drastically worse than what we have right now (in terms of amount used, amount of users, and overall harm). Making sure we educate users when they’re just starting out (not just on the effects of the drug, but also in skills, psychological and practical, of drug management (for each specific drug), and in harm reduction for each specific drug), might go a significant way in reducing harms and levels of use. Use would probably still rise, but perhaps we could keep that rise modest, and we would eliminate most of the black market and problems associated with it because we’re letting people who don’t have a licence satisfy their curiosity legally.

  39. I should have specified, the licence is taken out through passing a test on the material we want the users to know.

  40. I think that might be a feasible approach, though I suspect that the tests would end up rather slanted if written by the drug warriors. I think people are entitled to take risks, even stupid ones, but certainly have no objection to their being informed of those risks.

    One obvious feature of a drug peace: An end to the use of no-knock entry for anything except hostage situations, and I mean REAL hostage situations, not “The non-violent offender has a family who he might decide to hold hostage if we didn’t break in at 3:00AM” hostage situation that you sometimes see.

    This evidence preservation rationale is pure BS, it’s no justification for risking lives, and not really valid, anyway, unless you’ve got reason to believe the target of the search stores their stash in a flash incinerator. Destroying evidence of drugs simply isn’t that easy, not when they can be detected at PPB levels, when sewer lines can be blocked.

    The problem in that respect is that we’ve got this “drug war” exception to the Constitution, now, and how are we going to get rid of it, while we’ve still got the drug war going on?

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