I forget how I came across this recently, but it is a summary of a new comprehensive work on drug policy in an international context called Drug Policy and the Public Good. The book examines policies and policy research across a variety of countries to come to some conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. Sadly, here in America we keep persisting in policies which have been proven to have no success while ignoring policies which at least have some modest success. The authors flat-out say there’s no magic bullet, but there’s a lot of room for us to be a lot smarter about drug policy in this country. Here’s some of their key conclusions:
Many policies that affect drug problems are not considered drug policy, and many specific drug policies have large effects outside the drug domain. There are similarities in the factors that predict drug use and other problem behaviours. Policies in other domains of society have direct impact on drug use and drug problems, just as efforts to combat drugs can influence outcomes in other areas such as crime.
Efforts by wealthy countries to curtail cultivation of drug-producing plants in poor countries have not reduced aggregate drug supply or drug use, and probably never will. Even significant expansion in cultivation curtailment, as in defoliation and alternative development programmes, has not produced desired results. One reason is that these activities shift production to another area within the country or to another nation.
Once drugs are made illegal, there is a point beyond which increases in enforcement and incarceration yield little added benefit.Increasing enforcement against drug dealers produces diminishing returns because incarcerating large numbers of people does not result in large price increases beyond what would occur with routine enforcement of laws.
Here’s my favorite:
The drug policy debate is dominated in many countries by false dichotomies that can mislead policy makers about the range of legitimate options and their expected impacts. Law enforcement and health services approaches each contribute to the other’s mission, as when law enforcement promotes public health (e.g. police officers warn users of dangerously high drug potency batches) and health services increase compliance with the law (e.g. when treatment leads to fewer crimes by patients). In addition, targeting drug use per se and targeting the harm caused by drugs are not inconsistent strategies because harm reduction approaches can lead to abstinence while abstinence services can result in reduced harm.
Oh, by the way, if I haven’t mentioned it, I am now the NCSU faculty adviser (assuming the student I signed the paper for turned the paperwork in) for Students for Sensible Drug Control Policy. I’ve never used any illegal drugs, never plan to, and really don’t like the idea of people using more of them. But our current policies are not in the least bit sensible.