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There are reminders every day about the impact our drug laws have on ourselves and our fellow citizens. Recently, many diaries have been written about the number and ranking of drug related questions on change.gov, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition, and perhaps the newest news regards the arrest of Sherry Johnston on possible drug charges in Alaska.

Sherry would be but a faceless statistic in the war on drugs, some nameless white woman from small-town America, were it not for her fortune (I'll let others judge whether 'tis good or bad) to be the paternal grandmother of one of the grandchildren of the 2008 Vice Presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Governor Palin.

Sherry doesn't deserve any more or less ridicule or attention or support or shame than anyone else engaged in the drug economy, but her blip in the limelight is an opportunity to examine how we talk about drugs. It's a reminder that drugs cross all political, ideological, religious, social, economic, racial, and gender boundaries.

One of the great advantages we have with drug policy is that much data has been collected about the consequences of our laws. We have copious amounts of medical literature and criminal justice statistics and surveys of the availability of drugs and so forth. Doctors and lawyers and judges and economists and business people and prosecutors and law enforcement officials and Greens and Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Christians and Jews and atheists and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and many, many, others have written books and articles on the impacts, both intended and unintended, of US drug policy. We have the benefit of great variation over time and among cultures to make comparisons to and draw evidentiary conclusions from, much more so than many other policy areas. Groups as diverse as the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, and theCATO Institute, and Common Sense for Drug Policy advise about the problems of our drug policies.

What I think is really important for us in the reality-based community to do is to make sure that our discussions about drugs are based upon facts, evidence, assertions that hold up to scrutiny. I think that's how we disagree on our conclusions without being disagreeable; we have to come to an agreement on the underlying facts.

I will not attempt to duplicate or summarize years (indeed, thousands of years) of what we know about drugs, or about specific US drug policy since passage of the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s. There are great resources available from all over the political spectrum. What I would ask and urge and cajole and plead, is that this be a forum where we challenge each other to make statements that are backed up by the evidence. I do believe the Obama-Biden Administration will embrace a more evidence-based approach to policy at Justice and with the ONDCP than the Bush-Cheney Administration, but I think the extent to which that happens depends partly on how we talk about drugs, on what our discourse looks and feels and sounds like. And I believe there's a spillover effect. If we want our charges about reality, about science, about evidence, about facts, to be heard in other policy areas, we are best suited to ensure we meet that standard in a policy area where we have significant disagreements within our own party.

The Drug Policy Alliance captures the essence of the problems we face with the war on drugs. As they aptly describe

The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health and a war on our constitutional rights.

To give some structure to this general plea, I thought I'd list some foundational premises to discussing and evaluating policy and a few specific areas about drug policy that should be widely known. These are observations that should not be controversial, but that due to the intense dissemination of misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete information, oftentimes are controversial, even among well-meaning, well-educated citizens, when applied specifically to drug policy.

Some foundational aspects of key legislation:

  1. We should evaluate policies on both their intended consequences and their unintended consequences.
  1. The burden for proving that taxpayer dollars should or should not be spent lies on those saying taxpayers dollars should be spent, not on those saying they shouldn't be spent.
  1. We need to have clearly defined goals in order to evaluate success or failure of legislation.
  1. Empirical evidence is valuable in highlighting problematic areas. When the data points to overwhelming and enormous distortions in how a law is being applied or in significant differences between the US and other countries, that should be cause for more closely examining what we are doing.
  1. We should be hesitant to use government power to restrict private, consenting behavior.
  1. The rule of law requires that every person be subject to it.

A basic cheatsheet on the war on drugs:

  1. Many people have possessed, transported, sold, and/or manufactured illicit drugs. Do we really want to lock up tens of millions of people? Who's going to pay the taxes for all that? What other reasons might government offer down the road to lock up millions of people?
  1. Drug use and drug abuse are two separate policy issues. Addiction is a serious medical issue. Fortunately, most drug users are not abusers. Criminalization shifts the focus from treatment to punishment for the people that most need help, and it punishes casual users who pose no threat to themselves or society. This is important to understand even for 'hard' drugs, which is itself a somewhat loaded and misleading term. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Aspirin and Ibuprofen, after all, are very, very dangerous drugs, and you can find them almost everywhere. Adverse reactions to prescription medications kill more Americans each year than all illicit drugs combined. We administer stimulant drugs as medication in a variety of forms, even to children. This is my one personal experience with hard drugs; I had quite the reaction to codeine as a kid.
  1. The drug war is very expensive, both in terms of money (at all levels of government) and in terms of distracting law enforcement efforts away from other threats to society. We have built a lot more prisons than universities in the past generation.
  1. The US imprisons more people than any other country in the world. Right now, approximately 6 million adults are under supervision (jail/prison, probation, or parole). We imprison more people for drug offenses than the whole of Europe's entire prison population. We have a higher incarceration rate than Russia and China. These people are disenfranchised (sometimes permanently), and they have a permanent barrier to future employment and other opportunities.
  1. Poor and minorities are disproportionately targeted, while wealthy and connected people get special treatment. Why are Rush Limbaugh and Brett Favre and Noelle Bush not in prison? We should listen to their pleas for privacy and understanding and mercy and apply the same reasoning to everybody else. But, if you're of the opinion that drugs should be criminalized, then that would mean punishment for our former, current, and future baby boomer Presidents, too. It means when a friend, family member, neighbor, or other person in our life makes such a choice, you should support their prosecution. It means you should report your college buddies and work colleagues who have broken drug laws.
  1. No amount of drug interdiction can repeal the laws of supply and demand. People's ingenuity at making and distributing something they want is far greater than government's ability to stop it. Surveys of high school students regularly show that drugs are widely available. We can't even keep drugs out of prisons.
  1. US drug policy funds organized crime and terrorism and violent warlords all over the globe. There is intense animosity generated toward the US due to tactics like Plan Colombia.
  1. Drug laws are new. Through much of our history, people were responsible for what they did to their bodies. It was only very recently that we tried mass efforts to eradicate the usage of entire drugs.
  1. Drug laws are haphazard. There is no scientific approach to how drugs are classified and regulated in the Controlled Substances Act. If you removed the names, it would be impossible to classify the major recreational drugs-nicotine/tobacco, THC/marijuana, alcohol, crack/cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, caffeine, mdma/ecstasy, and so forth. We literally tell 18 year olds you're not old enough to drink alcohol, but you're old enough to die for your country. We literally tell 12 year olds, don't do drugs, but report to the nurses' office every day at noon to take your cocaine (ie, Ritalin, methylphenidate).
  1. Drug laws laid the foundation for the excesses of the Bush Administration. The surveillance society, the use of prisons, the extra-Constitutional powers. All this and more was already laid in place by the tactics necessary to make people do stuff they don't want to do. Literally, people involved with abuses in US prisons were designing policies and training guards at places like Abu Ghraib. If you don't know the story of Lane McCotter, for example, it's not exactly pleasant, but well worth remembering. Mr. McCotter shackled a mentally ill inmate to a chair, naked, for 16 hours, killing the man.

I want to close by emphasizing that there are legitimate reasons to criminalize drugs. What I ask is that claims made supporting criminalization be clear and based upon the evidence. The goals should be specific and measurable and verifiable. There needs to be data showing that our laws have helped reach these goals.

It's not enough to say that drugs are bad. Drugs are bad. They are dangerous, and I personally would suggest drugs are not just physically unhealthy but are emotionally and spiritually and morally corrosive, as well. In an evidence-based world, though, if the effects of drug laws are even worse, then we should follow the data in our discourse and, ultimately, our public policy.

If you just read one thing, read the Drug Policy Alliance's summary of What's Wrong with the War on Drugs.

Originally posted to washunate on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 02:31 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good diary. I hope an evidence-based drug policy (8+ / 0-)

    is on one of those scientists' lists he just appointed.

  •  Especially with every pres. candidate (8+ / 0-)

    Trying drugs or exposed to it since Clinton. How long do we hide it under the rug? America loves to get high, escape, or just have an altered mind experience. What do you change the war to: War on your desires?

    •  And, of course... (9+ / 0-)

      ... it's not just about pleasurable experiences.

      There are all the medicinal uses for marijuana.  It's an important painkiller for so many people, for example.

      The Supreme Court decision that overrules any state laws that legalize marijuana for medical use was just criminal, IMO.

      So, we're outlawing something that is a very useful medication for many people.

      Immoral.

      •  No - basic federalism. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        weltshmertz

        U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2:

        This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

        So if a federal law is Constitutional, it trumps state law. You could argue federal marijuana laws aren't Constitutional, but you'd have a hell of a time showing they have no bearing on interstate commerce, since marijuana is the biggest cash crop in the USA. (Yes, bigger than corn or tobacco or soybeans.) And if something affects interstate commerce, then it's fair game for federal law under U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 1,3:

        The Congress shall have power . . . To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.

        I agree current drug policy is really, really stupid and even evil. But it ain't unconstitutional.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 05:35:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Uh, where did PP say it was unconstitutional? n/t (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          weltshmertz, Alec82

          Yuletide benefit concerts by the Dutch chorus "Nonstop"!! 12/19 in Baarn, 12/21 in Aalsmeer

          by lotlizard on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:08:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Here -- OK, more or less . . . (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BYw, weltshmertz

            The Supreme Court decision that overrules any state laws that legalize marijuana for medical use was just criminal, IMO.

            The issue before the Supreme Court was whether federal law trumps state law, or the other way around. That issue is obviously controlled by the Constitution. If PP thinks the Supremes were wrong, then it must be because PP thinks their interpretation of the Constitution is wrong -- in other words, that federal drug law purporting to overrule state drug law is unconstitutional.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 05:18:34 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Perhaps we need to stop declaring war on our (7+ / 0-)

      Citizens.

  •  Sane drug policy could save California's (10+ / 0-)

    economy and cut support out from under the Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, among many other benefits.

    Thanks for the diary.

    the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. -- John F. Kennedy, 1961

    by tempus binder on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:05:14 PM PST

  •  Great diary (10+ / 0-)

    I would love to have an evidence based discussion with the drug warriors.  Unfortunately, I don't think that's possible.  The rhetoric and scare tactics obviously aren't as effective as they were before, but despite what appears to be a bipartisan (multipartisan, actually) consensus that the drug war has failed, there's been very little discussion of reforming drug sentencing, which is a very important step in the process.

    What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

    by Alec82 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:05:59 PM PST

  •  The evidence in my county (13+ / 0-)

    is that they took in $440,000. in 2007 in forfeiture profiteering, Money the police departments have started to count on as part of their budgets. They're not going to give that up without a fight.

    It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.--- Bertrand Russell

    by triv33 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:16:35 PM PST

  •  Well, you're asking for the impossible: (15+ / 0-)

    You want Americans to base a public policy that wastes billions, encourages crime, locks millions up for much of their lives, and leads to 1000s of violent deaths ... on sane reasoning?

    What, are you nuts?

    There are a few issues in which our stance as a nation is utterly incomprehensible. The War on Drugs is one of those issues.

    Ask 1,0000 Americans on the street if Prohibition was a good idea and should be restored. You won't find 5 who say yes.

    Yet these same people cannot see that it isn't working for drugs, either. That the same reasoning would lead to an end on the War on Drugs.

    It baffles me.

    "I'm a dweller on the threshold ..."

    by thresholder on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:19:04 PM PST

  •  Kudos on this very fine Diary ... (10+ / 0-)

    ...Your line here should apply to all our efforts here (and elsewhere):

    What I would ask and urge and cajole and plead, is that this be a forum where we challenge each other to make statements that are backed up by the evidence.

    Americans do not like to think of themselves as aggressors, but raw aggression is what took place in Iraq. - John Prados

    by Meteor Blades on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:20:48 PM PST

  •  Follow the Science (12+ / 0-)

    Some low-drama incremental steps Obama can take without Congressional action...

     1. There's been a formal Cannabis Rescheduling Petition languishing in the FDA since 2002. The Secretary of HHS could direct the FDA scientists to conduct an expeditious review of the science, with a determination as to whether modern research supports the placement under Schedule 1. The Controlled Substances Act provides for Administrative rescheduling, subject to Congressional reversal. This would solve the medical issue.

     2. Current law contains provisions for growing agricultural hemp under license. A pair of North Dakota farmers, (one's the Republican Deputy Majority Leader of the State Assembly) have State Hemp Licenses in hand, and pending applications pending for Federal Licenses. Issue them.

     3. Actual Federal prosecution of illicit cultivation varies considerably by Federal Judicial District. The majority of States have abandoned mandatory minimum sentences, but draconian federal ones remain on the books. Leave the prosecutions (except in particularly egregious circumstances) to the States.

     4. Open a  peer-reviewed research on the Ibogaine cure for opiate, speed, and cocaine addiction. A single dose resets the brain's chemical switches, unlike more conventional drug substitution therapies. Itself a Schedule I Controlled substance. I convinced Tommy Thompson to issue a single research license as his last act at HHS in 2005, alas by then the researcher had lost her funding. The proposal had been languishing since 1998.



    Shoes are the new pie.

    by ben masel on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:38:11 PM PST

    •  this is an excellent point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BYw, SciVo

      There is a lot the Obama-Biden Administration can do 'below the radar' to make things better simply by managing the federal bureaucracy differently than the Bush-Cheney Administration.

      What I think we can add to that (and by we, I mean citizens outside the government) is a discourse that demands accountability and transparency, that embraces scientific rigor and consistent application. Those advocating for following the science should know the public is on their side, and those standing in their way should know the public disapproves. Changing the tone of the discussion is where I think those of us that don't work at FDA or DEA or ONDCP or other areas that impact drug policy can help the situation.

  •  Good point about pharmaceutical drugs (5+ / 0-)

    When I was just a kid my parents put me on Ritalin, and later Adderall. Both of them made me emotional, and a little bit nuts, and I stopped taking them after a couple of weeks. Kids shouldn't be given this shit

    •  Part of an evidence-based approach (9+ / 0-)

      is avoiding sweeping generalizations based on one's personal experience. First of all, personal experience is just that, personal; there's no way, based on personal experience alone, to determine whether your experiences are typical or atypical. You didn't do well on ADHD meds, and not everybody does, but your own experience says nothing about how they affect other people. There are some who tell near-miraculous stories about how ADHD meds turned their lives around; they shouldn't be overgeneralizing either. Overreliance on personal experience presupposes that life is full of simple answers; it isn't.

      In drug policy debates, for example, it's very common for recovering addicts to assume that everyone who uses drugs or alcohol recreationally is simply an addict who hasn't hit bottom yet. There are in fact many people who, for whatever reasons, have never been able to use drugs/alcohol in a non-destructive fashion (many recovering alcoholics say that it's completely mysterious to them how anybody could have a drink and not end up puking or passing out), but their personal experiences do not contradict the existence of a much larger number of people who can. Your story is your story, not everyone else's.

      Secondly, there is an enormous literature in social psychology and behavioral economics that details the hundreds or thousands of ways that perfectly sane, rational human beings can fool themselves. It's often been said that jumping to conclusions should be an Olympic event. Our minds cut all sorts of corners all the time. Most of the time, this is harmless and probably necessary; we'd be totally paralyzed if we had to reason everything out from first principles.

      But there are times when these mental shortcuts lead us to dead ends. This is particularly true when we're dealing with events outside our everyday experience. The problem is that these dead ends feel right. The scientific method was largely created as a way to reduce (it can't fully eliminate it) our ability to fool ourselves.

      This isn't really directed at you personally, or even at the particular posters in this thread; it's something I've been meaning to write about for quite some time, and this thread just gave me a good opportunity.

      P.S. Any comparisons of ADHD meds to cocaine or meth need to take dosage into account. A hit of cocaine is not equivalent to a pill of Ritalin; it's more like gulping the whole bottle down. Remember that psychoactive drugs have highly dose-dependent effects (and route-of-adminstration and speed-of-absorption effects) that can vary widely (for example, smoked nicotine can be either stimulating or sedating depending on how fast one smokes).

      There is nothing so practical as a good theory—Kurt Lewin

      by ebohlman on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 07:42:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  but we don't teach our kids that (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BYw, SciMathGuy, SciVo

        We don't tell our kids that drugs are complicated, that there are many variables at play, that different people react differently to different drugs. We teach our kids drugs are bad, don't do drugs, just say no, drugs will ruin your life, etc.

        The D.A.R.E. curriculum's goal, as explained on the D.A.R.E. website, for example.

        D.A.R.E. teaches kids how to recognize and resist the direct and subtle pressures that influence them to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs.

        This is very important, but we don't talk like this:

        P.S. Any comparisons of ADHD meds to cocaine or meth need to take dosage into account. A hit of cocaine is not equivalent to a pill of Ritalin; it's more like gulping the whole bottle down. Remember that psychoactive drugs have highly dose-dependent effects (and route-of-adminstration and speed-of-absorption effects) that can vary widely (for example, smoked nicotine can be either stimulating or sedating depending on how fast one smokes).

        Our laws don't take dosage into account. Our discourse doesn't take dosage into account. That runs both ways. You can't say it's inaccurate to equate cocaine and Ritalin unless you also say it's inaccurate to say cocaine can't be used safely. The old adage, the dosage alone determines the poison, is particularly relevant when we talk about criminalization, because criminalization leads to higher concentrations, whether we're talking alcohol or marijuana or cocaine or ecstasy. People naturally moderate their dosage because the point for the vast majority of users is to have fun, not to kill yourself. It's the laws themselves that drive people to higher concentrations, or in the case of legal drugs, 'over' dosing to get the same result.

        Basically, I think both of you make important comments. Low-dose pharmaceuticals are equivalent to purer street drugs not because they're identical chemically (and it's important to understand they're not identical), but rather because that's how we talk about drugs; it's the discourse that renders them similar. That's the inconsistency in our discourse. If we tell kids that one experimental use of meth will ruin their lives, we immediately undercut that message the first time we send a friend to get a prescribed narcotic. Kids are smart. They know how to take two pills. Or four. Or, as you say, the whole bottle. And they know that lots of adults around them do the same thing.

      •  YES! Thanks for mentioning this: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        washunate

        In drug policy debates, for example, it's very common for recovering addicts to assume that everyone who uses drugs or alcohol recreationally is simply an addict who hasn't hit bottom yet.

        Of course, that's not true - as the diarist pointed out, not everyone who uses drugs abuses drugs. For that matter, not everyone who abuses drugs is an addict.

        And lest we forget: drugs are chemicals. Nothing more, nothing less. Some drugs have no abuse potential (aspirin). Don't like taking aspirin? How about chamomile or Sleepytime tea? The flavour is those teas in nothing more than chemicals dissolved in hot water (which is in itself a chemical).

        We need to stop the hysteria. Evidence is good. Science is good. WARS (OhMyGAWD, we have to go to WAR!!!!!!!!!!!) are useless at best.

        Get off the right wall. Please. Get off the right wall. I'm begging here. Get off the right wall. Get off the right wall!

        by SciMathGuy on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 01:06:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Gin (8+ / 0-)

    Gin took London by storm in the first half of the 18th century. It "was the original urban drug," says Warner in this intriguing slice of social history. "Cheap, potent, and readily available," it aided London's poor in escaping the wretchedness of their lives and was considered a public menace by Daniel Defoe and Samuel Johnson.

    Warner brings us inside these rundown, unlicensed gin shops to show us how and where gin was consumed. and into Parliament, which in 1736 passed the "most notorious" of a series of Gin Acts, which ended in failure. Gin consumption increased; moreover, the laws created a working-class atmosphere of "open contempt for the law and its agents."

    http://www.amazon.com/...

  •  Gin Acts (7+ / 0-)

    The 1736 Gin Act, for instance, required an exorbitantly expensive £50 license for retailing gin and through such a steep requirement, Parliamentarians sought to effectively outlaw the sale of gin. This Gin Act provoked immense backlash against the government and in the years following this Act, London was rocked by a series of popular protests that posed a much more immediate threat to public order than gin ever had. There was widespread opposition from the trade and from the London public. Rioting, an explosion at Westminster Hall, and threats to the life of Joseph Jekyll (the chief initiator of the Act) ensued.20 Moreover, sales of gin, after a momentary slump, actually increased after the 1736 Act in part because selling and drinking gin constituted a form of political protest against a highly unpopular government.21

    The rewards to informers offered under the Gin Acts of 1736 and 1737 were also a catalyst for crime. In the year following these acts, hardly a day passed in which an informer was not attacked on the streets of London, sometimes by mobs of a hundred people or more.

    In the 1740s, newspaper headlined shocking statistics, such as attributing the death of 84,000 children as a result of gin drinking since 1725.35 While the effects of gin on the fetus and breast fed children were not benign, as medical evidence from that period and today demonstrate, the overwhelming cause of child mortality was not gin but rather infectious diseases resulting from severe overcrowding, the lack of sanitation, polluted water supplies and inadequate nutrition.36 It was hence inaccurate to attribute infant death and the stagnant population growth on the gin drinking habits of poor women. Whatever the actual harms of gin drinking, the lives and health of women adversely affected were not a priority with reformers.

    Other reasons underpinning the concerns of the reformers for the fitness of the next generation were far less patriotic. Contemporary mercantilist theory favored an ever-growing population as a way to ensure that the supply of labour always exceeded demand and this was a way to ensure longer working hours from the poor and to keep wages low.

    To pass the 1751 Gin Act, reformers exploited the public’s fear of crime. They offered a simple formula with an equally simple solution: gin, they said, led to crime; take away the first and away goes the second.

    http://culturalshifts.com/...

  •  Let an Afghan bear witness (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rick Aucoin, weltshmertz, SciVo, washunate

    The Taliban benefit from the poppy because the farmers pay them taxes.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/...

  •  Here's what I think. . . (7+ / 0-)

    Drug USE (and the possession of small quantities for personal, individual use), in the absence of any harm resulting from it, should be entirely legalized. No matter what the drug. There is no sane reason for criminalizing the mere use of drugs in the absence of any danger posed from them. Someone drives on drugs? Throw the fucking book at him/her. Someone lies down on his/her bed and gets high? It's his/her own business, or should be.

    Drug addiction should be treated medically as the illness it is, as should drug overdose and side effects. NO ONE should ever have to fear arrest for seeking health care.

    Recreational drugs need a tiered system, IMO, and here's one I'd recommend:

    Entirely legalized for sale along with the existent alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and otc drugs: marijuana and similar cannabis products. There's no legitimate reason to continue the prohibition, as it is no more dangerous than alcohol or nicotine. It should therefore be as legal as alcohol and nicotine: no underage sale, but few other restrictions.

    Legalized for sale but with restrictions and strict liability labeling (e.g. strict age enforcement, limited purchase amounts, labels and package inserts describing effects, side effects, known dangers, etc.): MDMA/ecstasy, LSD and most hallucinogens. These are, yes, drugs with actual side effects but which careful use AND purity of the drug makes no more risky than alcohol.

    If, say, ecstasy users have pure MDMA as opposed to something cut with meth or heroin or whatthefuckever the pillmaker throws in, don't drive under the influence, and do keep in mind their body temperature and fluid intake -and are aware that overuse can cause what we all recognize informally as the "LA burnout syndrome," and that using carries that risk of brain and nerve effects from fucking with the serotonin system in one's brain. . . they're no more at health risk than regular drinkers are. It's the cutting and the fear of arrest/lack of knowledge that makes street e dangerous, IMO.

    Same for LSD: if people are told what to expect and both reassured in advance AND strictly warned to pay attention to their setting and pre-dose surroundings.

    Illegal for sale outside of pharmacies and hospitals without a prescription from a medical doctor: cocaine, heroin, addictive pharms. These are drugs where safe use is something that MUST be controlled or monitored closely whether in legitimate medical applications or in the maintenance of true addicts' health. Nicotine should be in this category to be honest, but then I'll admit as an addicted smoker I'm a hypocrite and it's already legal.

    Deyama Toshimitsu! You broke my gaydar! I demand a replacement at once!

    by MiscastDice on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:37:01 PM PST

  •  I think it is important (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    weltshmertz, SciVo

    to remember some things about "facts" in the political world. The diarist states what is apparently obvious:

    What I think is really important for us in the reality-based community to do is to make sure that our discussions about drugs are based upon facts, evidence, assertions that hold up to scrutiny. I think that's how we disagree on our conclusions without being disagreeable; we have to come to an agreement on the underlying facts.

    Although much of what George Lakoff has told us about political thinking has been ridiculed as psychobabble, he explains quite well why things are the way they are on issues like drug policy. Reasoning about drugs and drug laws is something that is based heavily in frames -- frames that have deep symbolic roots in the history of the political struggles of the last 75 years. The important thing Lakoff tells us about this kind of mechanism is that facts really don't matter in political discourse. When facts conflict with frames, the facts "bounce off", and the frames guide thinking and ultimately shape policy.

    The problem is not that people do not understand that drug policy is misguided. Everyone knows that. The problem is not that people do not understand that drug war is a miserable failure and a nonsensical idea. Everyone knows that. On the whole, the problem is not that people don't know the facts. The problem is that they don't care about the facts. Drugs have deep symbolic meaning in American life now, and that strange and twisted meaning governs political thought about the issue. We are at a stalemate, and the new administration doesn't seem interested in doing anything different. Unless you are interested in argument simply for the sake of argument, I suggest you find a new issue! Nothing is going to change as far as drugs are concerned, and nobody cares about the facts. The facts have been 100% contrary to policy for a long time, but nothing ever changes. Why would you think the facts will matter now?

    •  An excellent argument against Lakoff (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wife of Bath, phaktor, BYw, washunate

      I've read Lakoff and think he has some interesting points, but, crikey, is the guy ever a reductionist.  He's like Freud and sex.

      And at any rate: framing is important in making political arguments.  To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, when people start talking about ignoring facts in the making of public policy, I get out my gun.

      "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

      by mbayrob on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:25:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I guess my point (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wife of Bath, SciVo

        is just that: Why do we think facts will suddenly matter? The facts have been well known for a long time. The facts were known when the Republicans escalated the nonsense. When you start trying to talk to politicians about sensible drug policy, they run like scalded apes. This is not an issue that runs on rational decision making, regardless of what you think of Lakoff or Freud or anyone else. Clearly, when you tell Americans they are flogging themselves with their drug policy, they respond, "Yes, I know. May I please have another?"

        •  That's where Obama's top four come in. (0+ / 0-)

          Performing massive public works for economic recovery, implementing universal health care, fostering renewable energy production, and moving from knee-jerk militarism to a diplomacy-based foreign policy will all change deep frames. By getting more people thinking in terms of complex systems, unintended consequences, human dignity and the common good (instead of "individual discipline" as code for anti-worker authoritarianism), those four big plans will all make it easier to change our drug policy to being evidence-based.

          I want to live in a civilization.

          by SciVo on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 01:00:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  That's a real pickle. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      phaktor, BYw, SciVo, washunate

      You've correctly identified a real problem that we must face if we are going to get sensible drug policy.  Yes, people's ideas about drugs often trump the facts about the effects of drug policies.  But "nothing ever changes"?  Come on.  A black man was just elected president, so something must have changed somewhere.

      I believe that producing a sound plan of action on any issue benefits from a healthy dose of skepticism to check that soundness.  Can you do that without the it's impossible so don't even try stuff at the end?

      •  After a fashion! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        alizard, BYw, SciVo, maxusso

        I apologize for the sardonics. Don't read too much into it. I am a drug policy activist, so I really am seriously seeking solutions at all times. In fact, I think the insight about facts being rubber bullets is useful knowledge -- not a bad attitude. A lot of people have wasted a lot of time and money trying to peddle facts to our electorate and our decision makers on this issue. They aren't interested. Believe me. Democrat nor Republican.

        My specific area of expertise, and the focus of my work, is probably one of the most depressing. I am an opioid activist supporting the rights of chronic pain patients. We are seen as the lowest of the low -- the craziest of the crazies. The "facts", nonetheless, are that opioid policies are just as ridiculous as marijuana policy, and just as tyrannical. The difference is that the opioid propaganda is older and more deeply set in the American psyche, so it is much more difficult to present "facts" in that area to effectively compete with the lies that people have accepted as "truth" since childhood.

        One important fact seems to be that the new administration isn't offering us any hope on the broader issue. He has directly said so. In fact, it appears he intends to continue the same old stuff, and has promised to enhance the funding for the worst of the drug warriors. That move probably is more pragmatic than philosophical, though. I am not issuing an indictment of Obama.

        I think the president-elect is a sensible man, and I cried the same tears of joy and relief on election night as everyone else. I tend to believe he is like a trauma surgeon who has been thrust into an emergency room after a disaster. He has to triage. He has to make practical decisions aimed at the bigger picture. I think he (probably correctly) sees taking anything other than a traditional "war on drugs" stand is too politically risky right now. What most people don't understand is how the drug war is structured within the government. The drug warriors are extremely well funded and connected from all angles to the highest centers of power in the government. Obama knows that, and he can't risk pissing them off just now. Quite frankly, they could destroy him overnight. They can destroy anybody. He is thus doing the only rational thing for a pol in his position. He is offering them money in hopes that it will hold them off for a while.

        I am of the opinion that drug issues are like most other social issues we are facing. They are not about facts or even about specific issues (see Lakoff's ideas about "SILOS"). That is why arguing the facts is getting us nowhere. The real problems are in attitudes and beliefs about the role of authority. When we begin to chip away at the foundations of conservative beliefs about authority, we will open up new vistas in social policy. In the meantime, all those pathways are closed due to the conservative mindset. Even our "progressives" have a lot of unlearning to do in this area. They know something is wrong, and they know our society must change. What they don't understand is how their upbringing under Reagan seriously damaged their cognitive processes, and so it is still hard for them to understand how to change and what is actually wrong. They still think it is about issues, and they are only concerned with the issues that effect them personally. Everyone else's issues seem less important, and they are willing to overlook the needs of others if their own issues are addressed (their own issues naturally take on the label of "the important issues"). That is how Reagan taught them to think. It will take a while, but it may happen. You are correct that we have good leadership in place for that to occur.

    •  This is a central critique (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      phaktor, BYw

      And it's something I want to change.

      I want public policy to shift to a more open embrace of a framework dependent upon respect for and appreciation of fact-based policy.

      The problem is that they don't care about the facts.

      I want to change that. I want a society where we do care, whether it's drug policy or environmental protection or economic sanctions or torture or anything else.

      I am, as you point out, aware that critiquing that desire by suggesting it's naive, idealistic, and/or impractical is a risk of this hope. Perhaps it's quaint and misguided, but I think the truth can set people free. I think education can change the way people think about the world. I think the fact that drug warriors pretend to care about the facts reveals the power of an evidentiary basis for policy making.

      But I do acknowledge your point. I could be wrong.

      •  Thanks, washunate! (0+ / 0-)

        Please see my reply to maxusso above. I think we are capable of change, but I think we should aim those efforts where they are most likely to pay off. Just now, the message we need to get across is more about how people think politically, rather than how their faulty thinking screws up their view of a specific issue.

  •  Naturally it's a great idea (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SciVo, washunate

    to consider intended AND unintended consequences, to be mindful of parity and of costs, to be, in short, evidence-based.  

    But I admit I WAS hoping for summary of the conclusions of those who gather and peruse such evidence, vast as the topic may be.  

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 10:38:51 AM PST

    •  short conclusion (0+ / 0-)

      But I admit I WAS hoping for summary of the conclusions of those who gather and peruse such evidence, vast as the topic may be.

      The war on drugs has had three main effects. Snarky tidbits follow the serious sentence.

      1. It has not created a drug free society. In fact, drugs are widely available at all age levels. Interesting tidbit here, a study just came out that found marijuana usage has passed tobacco usage among teenagers. Hmm, usage of the legal drug is decreasing, usage of the illegal drug isn't...
      1. It has caused tremendous harm to our Constitutional freedoms and the rule of law. But hey, who cares about a piece of paper, right? We've got to protect the country against those ones.
      1. It has wasted enormous financial and human resources. Of course, the national debt can be passed off to the kiddies, and the denial of liberty and the separation of families and the undermining of public health and so forth is nothing new; we've done that to black people for centuries.

      Hope that helps :)

  •  The War on Drugs is also a War on Employees. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    washunate

    Don't forget drug testing in all its forms, especially drug testing as a condition for or of employment. It's the perfect example of getting the "right" answer to the wrong question. Drug tests don't ask if you're fit to do a job; they ask if you have had any contact with drugs (or substances that mimic the effect of drugs in standard lab tests). These include legal or illegal drugs, therapeutic or street-purchased drugs, Jewish-eater-of-hamentashen or junkie, etc. Behavioural tests are much better. They ask if you can do your job today.

    For example, suppose you have 2 bus drivers ready to go to work one Monday morning. Driver #1 is drug-free, but had an argument with his significant other on Saturday night and hasn't slept since then. Driver #2 smokes marijuana, but only about once every other week, and last had some 8 days ago.

    Driver #1 will pass the drug test, but isn't fit to drive. Driver #2 has no residual effects from the marijuana and is quite fit to drive, but will fail the drug test. Which one would you rather have driving a bus?

    On the other hand, each driver could take a game-like driving test, having practiced it many times before. Driver #1 will fail, and should be given the day off or re-assigned to other duties for the day. Driver #2 will pass the test, and goes on to drive the usual bus route for the day.

    I'll take the drug-using Driver #2 over the sleep-deprived and reaction-impaired Driver #1 any day. How about y'all?

    Get off the right wall. Please. Get off the right wall. I'm begging here. Get off the right wall. Get off the right wall!

    by SciMathGuy on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 01:18:57 PM PST

    •  it's called performance-based testing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SciMathGuy

      I think the one company that was doing this stopped carrying the product due to lack of interest

      It wasn't a driving test, it was a reflex / vision /coordination test.

      From what I saw on the web page on the product (inactive content), I see no reason why this couldn't be repackaged using currentelectronics technology and manufacturing techniques into something costing $50 or less in large production volume... licensing fee to the original inventor might be 1% of net.

      Imagine having one of those things in every single vehicle, ready to prevent the vehicle from starting if the driver is significant;y impaired, regardless of what the driver is impaired on... lack of sleep, legal OTC drugs, prescription meds, alcohol, illegal drugs.

      We don't care what a driver or pilot is impaired on, we just don't want that person impaired and running things that can kill people. That's the extent of the legitimate public government interest in whether a person is using whatever or not. That's the least intrusive and probably most cost-effective way to deal with that interest and probably the one that would make the biggest impact possible on public safety.

      This wouldn't even be difficult, it's a small electronics hardware startup sized problem and 6 months to a manufacturable prototype. Market would be auto OEMs, construction machinery OEMs, the aerospace / military.

      Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

      by alizard on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 02:54:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I work w/homeless & extremely low income (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    washunate

    and the current drug laws are absolutely devastating to people who get caught up in the "legal" system.  I come across a fair number of people who are hardworking & honest and trying to get ahead but because they have a non-violent felony drug conviction they can't get housing or anything more than a low wage service job.  The situation is fucking absurd.

    We apologize for this sig line. Those responsible have been sacked.

    by bnasley on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 01:27:16 PM PST

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