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July 2005



Mark A.R. Kleiman, drug policy expert with a blind spot you could drive a truck through

Mark Kleiman is one of the oddballs in the world of drug policy reform. He’s well-educated, has done extensive research in the field and is often able to articulate major failings in the drug war. However, whenever it comes to alternatives to our current drug policy disasters, his brain appears to shut down completely, often causing bizarre statements that he cannot and will not support or defend.
It’s the blind spot.
He intellectually knows that the drug war doesn’t work, but for a variety of reasons (apparently including personal animosity toward certain historical drug policy reformers, and some kind of family-based moral block that interferes with intellectual discussion of legalization options), he continues to push a belief that in some unspecified way, we can “make prohibition work.”
Some examples:
1. Last year, Mark wrote a report on drug dealing, drug control, and terrorism. Lots of good information, but check out this wild set of assumptions in his post:

… Therefore, if terrorism were the only thing we cared about, we probably ought to legalize cocaine.

However, since it isn’t — since we also care about the damage long-term, heavy cocaine users do to themselves, and since the number of long-term, heavy cocaine users would likely soar under legalization on the alcohol model — the question becomes whether the gains in terrorism control, added to the gains in reduced domestic crime, law enforcement costs, and incarceration levels, are enough to counterbalance the losses on the addiction side.

My judgment is that a world with legal cocaine would probably be, on balance, somewhat worse than a world without it.

He had absolutely no support for the soaring increase in abuse and even then did not address how that could possibly counter all the negatives of the drug war. I blow lots of holes in his post here.

2. Mark often attacks drug policy reformers as not caring about sick people when it comes to medical marijuana, and backs it up with… absolutely nothing. He’ll detail at length all the problems in the government’s approval processes and then rail at reformers for not going through the government’s approval processes. Somehow, he believes that trying another way is selfish, and that providing medical marijuana through referendum is damaging to sick people (for no apparent reason), and if reformers really cared about sick people, they’d make them suffer and die while waiting for the government to approve it. When challenged on such outrageous and false statements, he doesn’t even allow his response to be printed.

3. Now we have Kleiman’s recent (and extremely bizarre) response to John Tierney’s excellent piece about the DEA’s war on pain doctors.
Mark had already made known his approval of the administration’s plan to go after medical drug diversion over a year ago. I had expressed my concernes at that time that such an effort could “increase the pressure on doctors to be more conservative with pain medication — at the expense of patients’ health and lives” (boy, did I understate it!)
Clearly Mark was wrong, but is unwilling to actually look at the facts, so he resorts to irrelevant and strange statements (like the fact that Tierney’s lack of mentioning Limbaugh made him sound like Limbaugh’s defense attorney?!)
When Tierney notes, with specific data, that the OxyContin fears of huge numbers of people are mostly hype, and, get this, Mark counters by calling it “statistical mumbo-jumbo” and shows his trump card: anecdotal evidence of individual cases of people damaged by drugs, some of which may be OxyContin.
Kleiman keeps banging the drum of ‘making prohibition work’ by stating how important it is to stop drug diversion. Again, the blind spot makes it impossible for him to discuss how much additional pain legitimate patients should suffer in order to achieve some unknown benefit from diversion reduction. The blind spot also fails to note the clear connection between diversion enforcement and things like meth labs.
As Radley Balko notes (see his entire post – it’s excellent), Kleiman also accuses Tierney of calling DEA agents cowards, something that might be a concern if Tierney had actually done it. What Tierney did was criticize policy. So in this case, Mark owes Tierney an apology.
It’s not the first time I’ve legitimately noted that Mark Kleiman owes someone an apology. I don’t expect to see it — Mark’s blind spot won’t let it happen.
It won’t be the last, either.

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