We’re making progress

This is Your War on Drugs is a Mother Jones editorial by Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery, that makes it appear that some of the things we’ve been talking about are getting traction.

AMONG OUR LEADERS in Washington, who’s been the biggest liar? […] This liar didn’t end-run Congress, or bully it, or have its surreptitious blessing at the time only to face its indignation later. No, this liar was ordered by Congress to lieÖas a prerequisite for holding the job.
Give up? It’s the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a.k.a. the drug czar, who in 1998 was mandated by Congress to oppose legislation that would legalize, decriminalize, or medicalize marijuana, or redirect anti-trafficking funding into treatment. And the drug czar has alsoÖhere’s where the lying comes inÖbeen prohibited from funding research that might give credence to any of the above. […]
But then, the drug war has never been about factsÖabout, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success.

Not bad. Mother Jones, which has been out on the edge on some progressive issues, has not really been there when it comes to drug policy. And now they are admitting it…

So why don’t we have a rational drug policy? Simple. Forget the Social Security “third rail.” The quickest way to get yourself sidelined in serious policy discussion is to stray from drug war orthodoxy. Even MoJo has skirted the topic for fear of looking like a bunch of hot-tubbing stoners. Such is the power of the culture wars, 50 years on.

I think the biggest progress we’ve made (and most of it, in my opinion, has happened in the past 5 or 6 years) is empowering people (and media) to “stray from drug war orthodoxy.” Mother Jones’ editors are, in this article, way behind, but finally getting the courage.
Even yet, their analytical skills are weak…

What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on “hard” drugs, but make enforcement fair (no more traffickers rolling on hapless girlfriends to cut a deal. No more Tulias). And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn’t a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos.

I’m not sure how leaving prohibition in place is “fact-based,” or why they’re afraid to use the “L” word for marijuana, but at least it’s more fact-based than today’s policies.
Over at The American Prospect, Eli Sanders has The Last Drug Czar – a fascinating article about Kerlikowske and the drug war in general.
He starts out talking about Kerlikowske’s statement that he’s going to stop using the rhetoric of the war on drugs (whether true or not, even the willingness to use the rhetoric of stopping the rhetoric is, oddly, still significant).

As far as statements from high government officials go, it was a radical declaration. Kerlikowske, and by extension Barack Obama, was rejecting four decades of federal government marching orders — a bold departure that would have been unthinkable in previous administrations. But even more striking than his announcement was the reaction: crickets.

Recognition of the futility of the war and the reality of economic laws…

To the dismay of decades of drug warriors, it turns out that the threat of arrest and, in some cases, harsh mandatory sentences has done nothing to halt the public’s demand for illegal substances. Nor has it lessened the eagerness of street dealers and drug cartels to deliver those illegal substances to markets large and small. Close to half of all Americans report they have tried illegal drugs. Given this kind of persistent demand, it’s no surprise that the targeting of suppliers hasn’t succeeded.

Of course, nobody really thinks Obama’s administration is going to dismantle the war on drugs. At best, there will be rhetoric with no action. At worst, there will be a running away from the discussion. But that opens the door for us… and the states… to take the lead on drug policy. I think that’s why Sanho Tree says “He’s the best drug czar we’ve ever had, which isn’t saying a lot.”
The article goes on to talk to reformers about what we might expect. Nadelmann says that, despite the “giant wave” we’re riding: “I don’t see the drug-war infrastructure crumbling quickly, if only because the old mind-sets have been there for a long time and there are powerful interests vested in the status quo.”
Tree follows up with a hilarious quote:

Sanho Tree, of the Center for Policy Studies, agrees. “It’s very difficult to predict tipping points, and when it happens it’s going to happen quickly,” he says. “We are already at the tipping point societally in terms of ending the drug war. But the people who have to act on this are in Congress, and they won’t do so because they have to face re-election. A lot of these politicians have fairly reptilian brains — you know, fire, burn, bad. … They think that because something was toxic a few years ago, it’s still toxic today.”

[Thanks, Tom!!]
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