More on prohibition

Mark Kleiman has a great post in response to Ethan Nadelmann’s Wall Street Journal op-ed:

As Talleyrand said about the restored Bourbons, the anti-prohibitionists have learned nothing and forgotten nothing in thirty years of making exactly the same points in exactly the same way. Ethan Nadelmann’s op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal doesn’t admit that “an end to prohibition” means increased availability, and that one of the consequences of increased availability is increased abuse. (It’s not true that “booze flowed as readily” during the Noble Experiment as it did before and after; cirrhosis deaths plunged by 2/3.)

Of course that isn’t where the argument ends; maybe the increased level of abuse is a price worth paying to avoid the bad consequences of the illicit market, and of enforcement. But that’s where any honest argument has to start: how much more abuse are we going to have as a result of a given change in the laws? And that’s where Nadelmann & Co. relentlessly refuse to start it. Their “vigorous and informed debate” refuses to face the basic trade-off involved.

As I keep saying, there is no ideal or problem-free drug policy. The real question is what problems are we most willing to tolerate and how do we minimize them.

Note that, in spite of the false binary world of Nadelmann and others, Kleiman is not a neo-prohibitionist or a drug warrior. He wants strategies that don’t clog the criminal justice system and jails with possession cases or low level dealers.

That’s the honest debate we ought to be having: just what should we permit and what should we prohibit, and how should we go about enforcing those prohibitions, to steer between the Scylla of drug abuse and the Charybdis of prohibition side-effects?

David Kennedy has shown in North Carolina that it’s possible to break up street drug markets, thus protecting neighborhoods, with a very small number of arrests. Steve Alm has shown in Hawai’i that it’s possible to keep probationers off meth and out of jail with frequent tests and reliable but mild sanctions. Phil Cook persuasively argues that alcohol is now grossly under-taxed in the U.S. and that we are all “paying the tab” for cheap booze.

Yet the Drug Policy Alliance has been conspicuously silent on all of this, and Nadelmann keeps writing the same essay he’s been writing since the mid-70s.