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Ending the war on drugs

I was shocked to learn recently how misguided our approach to drug policy is. In a recent article in The Independent, Johann Hari clearly explains how a policy based on prohibition and policing is counterproductive, and how all evidence favors legalizing and regulating the drug trade. For instance, did you know that Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001, and that drug use has since fallen, with hard drug use falling fastest? Or that the rate of new heroin addictions in Switzerland has fallen 82% since the country started providing centers where addicts can inject heroin safely and for free? (That’s because addicts no longer need to recruit new users to finance their addiction.)

But despite the evidence, political forces are lined up against a sane drug policy. As Hari explains:

In 1998, the Office of National Drug Control Policy was ordered by Congress to stop funding any scientific research that might give the impression that we should redirect funding from anti-trafficking busts into medical treatment of addicts, or that there is any argument to legalise, regulate or medicalise drug use. … So, to give a small example, the ONDCP spent $14bn on anti-cannabis adverts aimed at teenagers, and $43m to find out if the ads worked. They discovered that kids who saw the ads were more likely afterwards to get stoned, so the evidence was suppressed, and the ad campaign marched on.

Ouch. And while the US might be doing particularly poorly on this front, we’re not alone: In the UK, the chair of the Advisory Committe on the Misuse of Drugs (ie. the country’s top advisor on drug policy) was just fired for speaking out in favor of evidence-based drug policy. There’s an article about it in this weekend’s Boston Globe Ideas section, which is also worth a read. Among other things, it mentions that the Obama administration is taking baby steps in the direction of a more evidence-based policy. Still no Portuguese-scale decriminalization on the horizon for the US, but we can at least be supportive of any move to shift resources into addiction prevention and treatment.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Bill Harris December 20th, 2009 8:53 am

    One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under prosecution 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 global 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. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery is being extradited to prison for selling seeds that American farmers use to reduce U. S. demand for Mexican pot.

    Only on the authority of a clause about interstate commerce does the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnate Al Capone, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Administration fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies. 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 shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period. Drug juries exclude bleeding hearts.

    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 or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. John Doe’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with his maker.

    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 are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal 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.

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