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Measuring Prohibitions

Radley Balko has an absolute must-read post over at Hit and Run

The more appropriate response to “more users” argument is “so what?” A slight rise in the number of recreational drug users is only a problem if you believe that there’s something inherently immoral and destructive about smoking a joint or snorting a line of coke–any worse, say, than downing a shot of whiskey or a taking drag off a tobacco pipe. The subset of people who refrain from drug use today out of respect for the law, but who might experiment with drugs should they one day be legal, probably isn’t one we need to worry about becoming addicted in mass numbers, or committing crimes to support their habit (which probably wouldn’t happen anyway if drugs were legal–how many alcoholics mug, burgle, or kill for gin money?). Unless you buy the “gateway” theory of marijuana, or the “instant addiction” theory about cocaine, both of which have zero scientific validity, I’m just not sure having slightly more overall users will have much of a negative impact on society at large.
The question, then, is what’s the problem?
Many drug warriors get downright offended when you ask them that […] The problem for them is very simply that there will be more drug users. It’s rather simple: Drug use = bad. More drug use = worse. Less drug use = success. For nearly forty years, these really been the only criteria for measuring the effectiveness of drug policy.

Boy that really hits home from my interactions with drug warriors. Some, in fact, go beyond offended to being completely unable to comprehend basic logical arguments (see Charlie Brown below.)
Radley also talks about how Walters and Tandy, et al, brag about the “success” of alcohol prohibition and then zooms in on their “successes” in current reductions in drug use.

[…] Note that all of this triumphalism is based on one set of criteria, and one set only: The number of teens reporting the use of drugs over a given time frame.
But this past February, the CDC reported that deaths from drug overdoses rose nearly 70 percent over the last five years. Half the overdose deaths were attributable to cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs. The number of overdose deaths caused by marijuana–the drug most targeted by the ONDCP–remained at zero. And among the biggest increases (113%) were those aged 15-42, those same teenagers the ONDCP was celebrating in its prior press release.
To look at those two figures and conclude that the drug war is moving in the right direction seems to me to indicate a near-religious devotion to preventing recreational drug use, at any cost. Prohibition advocates are again measuring success not on how well the drug war is preventing real, tangible harm, but simply on how effectively they’re preventing people from getting high.
And of course overdoses are only one aspect of the harm done by the drug war. […]

Radley’s really nailed it. Read the whole thing.

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