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Reading assignment: The war on drugs

August 26, 2009

After being urged by a critical mass of folks to read Ben Wallace-Wells’ How America Lost the War on Drugs, I finally made time before work this morning.  The masses were right; I learned a lot.

To be honest, before today, I had no comprehension of the movement of the pulse of coca production from Bolivia to Colombia to Mexico over the last decade and a half.  Instead, I had a vague sense that all three were somehow involved.

I also had no idea that our national policy has—over the last 35 years—been what can only be described as intentionally incompetent.  Don’t get me wrong—I was on board long before today with folks who are skeptical that the terminally ill using medicinal marijuana and crack addicts have anything to do with one another, and since writing a policy brief about mandatory minimum laws, I’ve been well aware of the disparities between penalties for crack versus powder cocaine.  But I didn’t know how wildly our comprehensive strategy has changed from drug czar to drug czar and I’d certainly never heard of the way in which the pharmaceutical lobby delayed effectively controlling methamphetamines for almost a decade.

Lots of learning.  Lots.  My only complaint is that the article never acknowledges the difficulty of communicating evidence-based policy solutions.  It isn’t all malicious ignorance.  Sure, there have been instances in which the War on Drugs took a turn directly contrary to all science and, frankly, all common sense.  But the “gateway theory” was once researched-backed as well.

David Kennedy, a Harvard criminologist, appears throughout the article, usually complaining that the solutions he developed for Boston, San Francisco and High Point, NC, haven’t been taken to scale.  He says:

If ten years ago the medical community had figured out a way to reduce the deaths from breast cancer by two-thirds, every cancer clinic in the country would have been using those techniques a year later.  But when it comes to drugs and violence, there’s been nothing like that.

Maybe.  But the folks working on illegal drugs and the crossover of legal drugs into the illegal market and violent crime and the implementation of mandatory minimums and the international supply of cocaine and meth and…well, there are a lot of them and they don’t have great channels through which to talk to one another yet.

That’s not an excuse.  But it is a reality.

At any rate, it’s a well-written article that provides some incredibly helpful historical context.  It’s long, but absolutely worth your time.  Read it.

Jonas

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One comment

  1. Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One needn’t travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance credibility.

    The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. In God’s eyes, it’s all good (Gen.1:12). The administration claims it wants to reduce demand for cartel product, but extraditing Canadian seed vendor Marc Emery increases demand. Mr. Emery enables American farmers to steal cartel customers with superior domestic product.

    The constitutionality of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) derives from an interstate commerce clause. This clause is invoked to finance organized crime, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but it’s back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon promised the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research. Marijuana has no medical use, period.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes the free exercise of religious liberty.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that adults own their bodies. The Founding Fathers decreed that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.

    Simple majorities in each house could put repeal of the CSA on the president’s desk. The books have ample law on them without the CSA. The usual caveats remain in effect. You are liable for damages when you screw up. Strong medicine requires prescription. Employees can be fired for poor job performance. No harm, no foul; and no excuse, either. Replace the war on drugs with a frugal, constitutional, science-based drugs policy.



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