We’ve had some good (and some volatile) discussions in comments recently, particularly over what constitutes drug policy reform and its end goals. This is quite healthy (as long as we avoid the name-calling). We have a number of people who frequent this site with different views both of our destination and our route to get there (and even how we should publicly describe our route to get there).
I’m going to inject LEAP’s Norm Stamper into that discussion, with a particularly appropriate piece over at Alternet: Let’s Not Stop at Marijuana Legalization
Yet, I’m alarmed that the above-mentioned poll showing majority support for marijuana legalization also found that fewer than one in 10 people agree that it’s time to end the prohibition of other drugs.
This no doubt makes sense to some readers at first glance, since more people are familiar with marijuana than other drugs like cocaine, heroin or meth. However, even a cursory study of our drug war policies will reveal that legalizing pot but not other drugs will leave huge social harms unresolved. [...]
Marijuana legalization is a great step in the direction of sane and sensible drug policy. But we reformers must remember that we’re working to legalize drugs not because we think they are safe, but because prohibition is far more dangerous to users and nonusers alike.
Read the whole thing — it’s worth it.
Norm’s OpEd very closely echoes my views.
I’m fine with incrementalism. I think medical marijuana, for example, serves us in two ways — on its own merits, and as a stepping stone toward acceptance of marijuana in general. I realize there are others who believe we should instead build and wield the Weapon of Instant Legalization of all things, but I seem unable to make sense out of the blueprints.
I’m not fine at stopping with marijuana. Like Norm, I’m perhaps less interested in the ability to freely shoot heroin than I am in stopping the evils of prohibition. I’m not opposed to regulation, and will accept that to the extent that it makes it possible to virtually eliminate black market harms.
I’m not concerned that we don’t yet have a finalized policy model for each legalized drug. I believe that there’s more than one that is acceptable and meets the requirements, and that these will come with trial and error (probably in the laboratory of the states), but we do have some good blueprints, despite the unwillingness of the “academics” in the U.S. to do their job and actually craft policy options.
Next, while I know some don’t like the word “legalization,” I will continue to use it. Sure, the word can scare people, and our opponents know it and try to demonize us with it. And I understand “framing.” But by avoiding the word, we cede to it that dark power, when in fact, the meaning of the word has nothing inherently in it to elicit fear or shame.
Every time a former cop from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition steps up in front of a Kiwanis Club and says “We need to legalize all drugs, and here’s why…,” the word “legalization” takes a giant step over to our side. When our opponents no long have that word to scare people, what do they have left?
Finally, I understand that we’re in it for the long haul — not just in terms that have to do with continuing beyond marijuana legalization, but because it’s the nature of our fight. The only way we’ll win is by changing people’s minds, one at a time. There’s no wizard who can ride up and wave their magic wand to undo decades of corruption and propaganda. No President is going to step in and tear up the Controlled Substances Act on national TV.
We had a victory this week in Congress on syringe exchange, and I really appreciate the sentiment in this OpEd by Julie Davids at Prevention Justice.
Bill Clinton said NOT lifting the federal funding ban on syringe exchange was one of the biggest regrets in his presidency. But he didn’t fess up to that till he was safely out of the White House.
Barack Obama pledged to lift the ban. Then pointedly didn’t publicly work to do so, even when his imprimatur could have given a much-needed margin of safety for congressional efforts.
But who really did work to lift the ban? People with HIV, drug users, harm reduction leaders and their allies. Long-time and brand new AIDS activists who took to the streets and the halls of Congress and the plaza of HHS and the UN for decades at this point, including those who got arrested in the Capitol Rotunda in one of the first acts of civil disobedience against the Obama Adminstration. Organizers and policy wonks who counted the votes and worked hand in hand with grassroots activists to persuade and convert legislators. Religous people who spoke up about what faith and redemption and compassion really means. AIDS service and prevention providers and drug treatment people and harm reduction counselors and people in recovery, and people in and out of recovery, who spoke up about their lives and their work.
And because of all this – not because of the political cowardice of those who knew they were doing the wrong thing by allowing the ban to persist but who time and again shrank in the face of ideological opposition – the ban will now be lifted.
We’re in it for the long haul.