Posts Tagged ‘mandatory minimum’


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.