18 February 2007

Drug policy

Mark A R Kleiman, who I quoted a while back musing about psilocybin mushrooms, has a good, long, serious essay at The American Interest talking broadly about the screwiness of American drug policy, and the debate around it.

To whet your appetite, he kicks off the essay by outlining how screwed up the situation is now, then outlining the nature of the problem very lucidly:

But the first step toward achieving less awful results is accepting that there is no one “solution” to the drug problem, for essentially three reasons. First, the potential for drug abuse is built into the human brain. .... Second, any laws—prohibitions, regulations or taxes—stringent enough to substantially reduce the number of addicts will be defied and evaded, and those who use drugs in defiance of the laws will generally wind up poorer, sicker and more likely to be criminally active than they would otherwise have been. Third, drug law enforcement must be intrusive if it is to be effective, and enterprises created for the expressed purpose of breaking the law naturally tend toward violence because they cannot rely on courts to settle disputes or police to protect them from robbery or extortion.

Any set of policies will therefore leave us with some level of substance abuse—with attendant costs to the abusers themselves, their families, their neighbors, their co-workers and the public—and some level of damage from illicit markets and law enforcement efforts. Thus the “drug problem” cannot be abolished either by “winning the war on drugs” or by “ending prohibition.” In practice the choice among policies is a choice of which set of problems we want to have.

Kleiman has his own preferences about what to do, which he summarizes for our convenience:
Enforcement
  • 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.
Treatment
  • Encourage problem drug users to quit without formal treatment.
  • Pressure drug-using offenders to stop.
  • Expand opiate maintenance.
  • Work on immunotherapies.
Prevention
  • 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.
Miscellaneous
  • 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.
That's so much better than what we have now, I'm stunned into being unable to quibble.

1 comment:

Celia said...
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