â€œMerryâ€ and â€œtragicalâ€? â€œTediousâ€ and â€œbriefâ€?
That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream
That scene came unbidden to my mind as I doubled over in laughter after reading the subhead of Rethinking the War on Drugs by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angela Hawken in the Wall Street Journal:
Prohibition and legalization aren’t our only choices when it comes to drugs.
Really? What’s the third choice?
Seriously. What’s the third choice? If it’s not prohibited, it’s legal. If it’s not legal, it’s prohibited, by definition.
Now, I realize that the authors may not actually write the subhead (and probably are furious with the Wall Street Journal headline writer), and yet, in one simple stroke, that headline writer has encapsulated the essence of Kleiman/Caulkins/Hawken. They refuse to legitimately discuss legalization and yet don’t want to be tarred with the fact that everyone hates prohibition (for good reason).
Of course, the truth is that prohibition and legalization are our only choices. It’s a binary proposition.
And the authors don’t have a third option. What they have is prohibition with a twist.
While they don’t specifically try to deny the definitions of prohibition and legalization so blatantly in the text of their written piece, they still show rampant intellectual dishonesty by tossing out ridiculous phrases — like referring to one side as being “proposals for wholesale drug legalization.”
Wholesale drug legalization? What does that mean? Is that as opposed to retail drug legalization? How about regulated drug legalization? Ah, they don’t want to talk about that.
They go on to use their tired mantra of every drug being exactly like alcohol, and somehow being required to be marketed exactly like alcohol, and also apparently there being no substitution effect. And so, with each drug that’s legalized (regardless of the methods or regulations employed) we descend further and inescapably into a world of zombies, because everyone in the world except the three of them is a pathetic, weak child who will hopelessly succumb to any drug that’s put in front of them (if the word legal is in any way attached to it), and it’s up to the three of them to save the world by imposing their will upon everyone else.
They then ruin their own argument by noting that drugs being illegal doesn’t stop people from getting drugs (“but the risk of arrest is too low to be much of a deterrent”)
Then they go on to destroy their own argument further by talking about ways to reduce the problems of alcohol and, lo and behold, it doesn’t involve making alcohol illegal! No, they propose regulations and taxes, and consequences for those who abuse alcohol. Then they supposedly take that same notion over to other drugs, but, lo and behold, it requires keeping the drugs illegal!
These guys talk a good game, and they’ve got the occasional program or proposal that can be useful in certain situations, but in terms of providing any kind of look at drug policy as a whole, they are hopelessly mired in their own prejudices and are incapable of dispassionately viewing or analyzing the facts.
It’s a shame that we have to look to the U.K., Australia, and elsewhere for legitimate drug policy academics.
Update: To clarify, there are a whole range of options within prohibition. If you are choosing one of those options within prohibition, then say so. Don’t claim to reject prohibition and then call for exactly that.
There are also a whole range of options within legalization. Acknowledge that, and don’t dismiss all the wealth of options as “wholesale legalization” or some such nonsense.
The two sides of the coin analogy in this post means that we cannot get rid of the evils of prohibition without going to some form of legalization. You can’t invent a mythical third path.