What to do about drugs (abridged)

A fellow blogger asked for a quick summary of my substantive views on drug policy. Okay, here’s the standing-on-one-leg version. Believing everything below will be certain to make people look at you funny, no matter which side of the issue they’re on.

I’m leaving out the hallucinogens and MDMA, which pose their own peculiar issues (including especially tricky ones around religious/spiritual use), and the whole question of medical use, which ought to be handled through the FDA drug-approval process.

1. Leave heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine illegal for non-medical use.

2. Allow use of cannabis, and growing for personal use or gratis distribution. Forbid commercial activity.

3. Shift drug law enforcement and sentencing to focus on reducing the side-effects of dealing: violence, neighborhood disruption, and the recruitment of juveniles. Cut back on base sentences for drug-selling. Target a reduction in total drug-related imprisonment from 400,000 to 200,000.

4. A heroin rehab center states -Require users of expensive illicit drugs who are also criminally active to abstain from drug use as a condition of bail, probation, parole, or other supervised release. Enforce that requirement with frequent drug tests and predictable, immediate, and mild punishments for each violation.

5. Integrate school-based and mass-media drug prevention efforts into broader efforts aimed at health risk management and self-command. Stop running drug-war propaganda as “drug abuse prevention.”

6. Tell the National Institute on Drug Abuse that its job is science, not providing support for drug prevention efforts or the latest proposal to stiffen drug sentences on the one hand or the drug treatment lobby on the other.

7. Expand drug treatment by convincing medical providers and their financing machinery that diagnosis of and intervention in substance abuse is an essential part of routine and acute medical care.

8. Reduce regulatory burdens on opiate maintenance therapies: methadone, LAAM, and buprenorphine.

9. Continue to raise cigarette taxes. Identify currently addicted smokers and either give them coupons good for exemption from the taxes or just give them lump sums in cash. The point of the policy is to reduce the number of new users to somewhere near zero without impoverishing existing users, not to generate windfalls for the states. Dealing with the resulting smuggling and black-marketing should be considered drug law enforcement.

10. Raise taxes on alcohol from the current average of a dime per drink to something closer to a dollar.

11. Make getting drunk (as opposed to drinking) the object of a big negative-advertising campaign. Goal: make being drunk, or having been drunk, something people — especially young people — try to hide, rather than something they brag about.

12. Abolish the age restriction on alcohol.

A more detailed statement of principles for drug policy, issued by the Federation of American Scientists, is here.

A slightly longer exposition of some practical ideas is here.

The text of my book Against Excess is on line here.

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