Learning lessons, ignoring lessons, and running away from them

The Portugal experiment in drug policy has been a critical and important laboratory demonstrating two huge points in the drug policy debate:

  1. tough enforcement (with all its destruction) isn’t somehow magically preventing an even larger drug problem than we have today (this is the completely unsupported argument that prohibitionists use to oppose trying anything other than strict prohibition)
  2. smarter approaches to drug policy can actually work to reduce harm, save lives, save money, and more.

The story was broken in a huge way by Glenn Greenwald, in his outstanding white paper for the Cato Institute: Drug Decriminalization in Portugal:
Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies
(downloadable for free) in April, 2009. The report, while given a lot of play on the internet, was fairly thoroughly ignored in most of the mainstream media.

This week that changed, with a large piece by Barry Hatton and Martha Mendoza with the Associated Press: Portugal’s drug policy pays off; US eyes lessons. It’s a pretty good piece, with accompanying video, about the Portugal experiment, plus other innovative approaches around the world, including the Switzerland heroin maintenance program, the harm maintenance programs in Canada, and drug courts in the U.S. Inexcusably, however (yet typically for mainstream media), they fail to even mention Greenwald’s white paper.

Regardless, it’s good to see this getting some good coverage.

One of the things the piece mentioned was that Drug Czar Kerlikowske went to Portugal in September to see it for himself. They also mentioned that Kerlikowske was publicly trying to distance himself from the “drug war” language.

Well, this was just a little too close to an endorsement of something other than prohibition for the czar, so we quickly found this correction from the AP in the Washington Post:

In a Dec. 26 story, The Associated Press reported that the United States is studying drug reforms in Portugal, and that White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal to learn about its experience with decriminalizing drugs. The story should have made clear that Kerlikowske does not think Portugal’s approach is right for the United States.

Running away from good lessons. We don’t even dare talk about it unless someone gets the idea that something other than strict prohibition can be a possibility.

It’s also interesting that if we point out an outright provable lie that the drug czar has gotten the press to print, there’s no interest in printing a correction, but let the Drug Czar think that something in an article might lead people to believe that he’d be open-minded and a correction is posted within hours.

[Thanks, Tom]
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21 Responses to Learning lessons, ignoring lessons, and running away from them

  1. malcolm kyle says:

    Clay, do I detect a slight lack of confidence in the possibility of ending prohibition in a peaceful and democratic manner ;>)

  2. darkcycle says:

    “Study”? I would guess he was there to pressure the Portuguese back into line. Unless he was “studying” how to undermine them. The worst thing for prohibition in this country would be an easing of the drug laws in the rest of the world. I’ve noticed the complete lack of attention paid in the media to places like Portugal and Spain. As far as the MSM is concerned, the only place with relaxed drug laws is Denmark, and then they only pay attention when some faction of the Dutch are trying to add more restrictions.
    It’s the same old selective reporting, the yellow journalism which has marked the drug debate since the very beginning in this country. But then, that’s the way we do propaganda here.

  3. Jake says:

    Several good things came out of Portugal, which I am sure we are all aware of. I had a discussion with C.Russel over at http://www.allaboutaddiction.com/addiction/drugs-decriminalised-u-k-debate .

    However, some levels of use did increase “According to Balsa et al (2004, 2006), prevalence of any illicit substance use in Portugal between 2001 (beginning of decriminalisation) and 2007 rose from 7.6 per 1000 population aged 15-64 to 12 per 1000 population aged 15-64 (increase of 4.4)”. (some use levels did decrease after 2006 though). This pales into insignificance when “Coupled with the significant decrease in number of intravenous drug users between 2000 and 2005 from 3.5 to 2 per 1000 population aged 15-64, we may infer that treating drug use as a health problem rather than a criminal problem has greatly benefited problem drug users in Portugal.”.

    Of course, all that data, all those positive results can be easily dismissed by the fact that someone who’s job depends on (some)drugs being illegal doesn’t “THINK” that its a good idea or will work ‘here’. We saw the same standard responses when Bob Ainsworth over here said that we should have an impact assessment of current policy and also called for decrim – “We don’t believe that this is the answer”.. I’m sorry.. who are you (to general politicians in the UK)? You studied politics and economics at university and you dont ‘believe’ it would work, even though there is empirical data to say otherwise.. put together by scientists not politicians…

    And regarding their other go-to talking point, that drug use will go up.. to this I say.. SO WHAT! Said increase would be done in the safest and most educated manner, by consenting adults, who absent harm to others should be allowed to do it anyways. Drugs can be fun, social and enjoyable in the right context – its why we use them! Of course kids may be able to get hold of drugs before they are old enough, but prohibition has proven that making a drug illegal only makes it cheaper and easier to get, and in the most dangerous form it can take.. why not take a harm reduction approach?!

    So everytime a politician or government official says they ‘dont believe’ its the right choice they should be removed from office due to sheer incompetence and negligence to those they are meant to serve! /rant

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  5. claygooding says:

    Malcolm,lack of confidence is not the issue,I have every confidence that article 12 on the Re-Authorization act was written by the industries wanting hemp kept illegal to grow in an open market,because I have not seen the ability
    to write such a Machiavellian piece of shit displayed by anyone in our government.

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  7. malcolm kyle says:

    Clay, why do you tarnish Machiavelli?

  8. malcolm kyle says:

    Colorado’s health department rejected the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD. But that doesn’t mean the military and MMJ have been divorced once and for all…

    …The advisory board will be comprised of retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Sullivan and other folks who know there way around the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    onward & upward

  9. claygooding says:

    lol,,,but true,sorry Machiavelli. Lost my head

  10. claygooding says:

    One of Norml’s board members needs your help;

    Sativa Survey Time: Marijuana Use and Behavioral Data Sought By NORML

    It is pretty straight forward with most answers plausible
    but some are hard to answer with the packaged replies,such as your favorite way to use marijuana,,,,it wouldn’t let me mark all of them except one as #1. (favorite) Joints,pipe/bong,vapeing,edibles,,,,I don’t do blunts or spliffs.

  11. darkcycle says:

    Malcolm, you’re right. Machiavelli did nothing to deserve the nasty reputation he’s got. After all, he just wrote down what had been unspoken. In doing so, he laid bare the methods of the depots, and made them available to anybody who read his books. In the context of his times, he was more like Julian Assange than, say, Henry Kissinger. We read the methods he laid out just the way he mean them to be read, with loathing and more than a little recognition. Every person should be exposed to “The Prince” before sophomore year in college at the latest.
    I think Clay’s use of the term “Machiavellian” is perfect, and I think the philosopher would smile at it’s employment.

  12. LOL.... says:

    …the only thing Gil and the ONDCP is interested in is how to stop(in the US)decrim and portugal is a good place to study that.

    I just love how our government just cant get passed doing things they have. Guess money and power is all thats important to them. Cold heartless bastards.

  13. Carlyle Moulton says:

    People who point to the undesirable effects of the drug war fail to understand that it is exactly these undesirable effects that drug war proponents want. Please read Michelle Alexander’s the New Jim Crow. This will make it clear to you that there was a choice made by the Reagan Republicans to use the laws against drugs to tar the members of the Negro underclass as dangerous scary violent drug criminals. Being tough on crime meant locking up scary Negroes and this law and order campaign was used to attract white working class Democratic voters to the Republicans since the Democrats were for civil rights and welfare for the undeserving racially defined criminal class. I do not think that it is overstating things to say that it was not just opportunism, KKK level racism was involved as well and the drug war offered a final solution to the Negro Question, albeit a slower one than Hitler’s.

  14. Carlyle Moulton says:

    The term “machiavellian” is a perfectly good word from psychology used to describe a personality type that tends to manipulate others. That Machiavelli gave his name for this word is perfectly appropriate as his main writings consisted of advice to politicians on the correct techniques for manipulating and controlling people.

  15. claygooding says:

    Carlyle Moulton,
    It figures,since the whole prohibition era has always been racially motivated,since the inception of some panel of white appointees/volunteers back in the late 1800’s or 1912 and was aimed mostly at the Chinese-Americans on the west coast and accused of spreading opium use across the US,because they were providing the proper setting for the drug and of course,they probably were. Much the same way the street gangs and bikers(alleged)do now.
    But you could buy pure opium at any apothecary or laudanum or cocaine. Or cannabis oil,,,,,:<)

  16. claygooding says:

    In the early 70’s I met a WWI veteran at a protest against
    the VN war. He had lost 2 grandsons over there.
    Of course,the Nam Vets were hanging together for the most part,toking and laughing a lot,for it to be such a serious issue.
    This 64 year old white headed man told of us drinking cannabis infused drinks from the general store when he was our age,and he still missed them. He said drunk in an hour and sober in 3 and no hangover,best damn drunk he had ever had. And he said that the drinks were never connected with the term “marijuana” until they were removed from the stores.
    He toked a little with us,but I think he wasn’t inhaling that much.

  17. kaptinemo says:

    Malcolm, the way I see it, it’s either the US makes a conscious effort at ending prohibition for economic reasons while it still has the time and ability to do so…or drug prohibition will be ended by those very same economics, regardless of any political actions, i.e. as in fiscal (and social and political) collapse of the government, itself.

    We’ve reached a point long ago where anyone with three brain cells to click together knows the country is effectively bankrupt. The only people who haven’t figured this out are those burdened with only 2 brain cells…and pols. The latter keep passing legislation acting as if the National Debt ceiling can be endlessly elevated, and the currency endlessly expanded, without major costs to everyday people. Which are already happening (noticing how prices for everything are going up?)?

    Kerli has done in Portugal just what Barry McC did in the Netherlands a few years back; just make a cursory visit that was required out of ‘fairness’, and then immediately return and state that an eminently practical course of action ‘wouldn’t work in America’.

    Well, this farce can only continue for as long as we pay for it. And we’re long past the point that we can’t. It’s just a matter of time before it sinks in with the rest of the country.

  18. Duncan20903 says:

    Well I ran into something that just cleared my brain buffer from the amazement at the stupidity that anyone would present as an argument the fact that Portugal is on the ropes as far as their gov’t debt and expenses is concerned. Seemingly presented by one moron that we should disregard their success in their drugs policy because their overall gov’t expenses exceed their income.

    Can somebody tell me how people like this get their shoelaces tied? They are obviously short on the brainpower required to learn that task. Should I invest in a loafers and flip flop manufacturing concern?

    I’m surprised that none of them have noted how just annoying the noises that geese make can be when they migrate.

  19. darkcycle says:

    Alot of people misunderstand Machiavelli. Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” after losing his Government positions, and being imprisoned and tortured by the Medici. He wrote “The Prince” as a form of revenge. What the book did was lay bare the methods the Medici used, but it did so in a way that would be less likely to lose Niccolo his head when it was published. He gave his “advice” to a “new Prince”, unnamed and and in a fictitious country. “The Prince” was a little like Wikileaks, in that it revealed the way the government functioned, without telling anyone things they didn’t already know or suspect to be true. That he put it down in writing and allowed it to be generally circulated should be evidence of his intent. He was pissed and he was lucky he got away with it, the fact he didn’t lose his head anyway amazes me. Anybody who took his tactics truly to heart WOULD have killed him. Anyway, while we employ the word “Machiavellian” in a fashion that would likely meet his approval, he gets a bad rap because he wasn’t REALLY giving advice to some despotic ruler, he was revealing his methods to the world.

  20. malcolm kyle says:

    Malcolm, the way I see it, it’s either the US makes a conscious effort at ending prohibition for economic reasons while it still has the time and ability to do so…or drug prohibition will be ended by those very same economics, regardless of any political actions, i.e. as in fiscal (and social and political) collapse of the government, itself.

    Kaptinemo, that’s also my exact take on the situation.

    After all, the ‘The Great Crash of 29’ happened because of alcohol prohibition, and not just during.


    If you have liberty then expect prosperity, but there’s most definitely no chance of prosperity without liberty.

  21. Tony Aroma says:

    Kerlikowske does not think Portugal’s approach is right for the United States.

    Fewer addicts, less crime, less disease. No way we want any part of that here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. That’s not how we roll.

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