Drug War = Culture War?

A friend, Matt, wondered if the premise of this Frank Rich column will have implications for drug policy:

What has happened between 2001 and 2009 to so radically change the cultural climate? Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown: Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.

I don’t think that the drug war has traditionally been part of the abortion/homosexuality/sexuality-in-pop-culture culture wars, but pro-legalization advocates seem to be enjoying a great deal of success in moving it to that category. I wince at this categorization–the culture wars tend to impose false binary choices and I suspect it would lead to very bad policy.

Conservative outcast David Frum wades into the matter, but his point seems to be to challenge hippie dope smoking peaceniks to consider the violence involved in the marijuana trade next time they light up. It’s an old tune. Acknowledge some of the costs of the drug war, and frame drug use as an immoral decision without examining the morality of the policy itself.

I don’t know what “the” solution is and I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to know. There are losts of changes we could make–shifting the the emphasis of our policy from incarceration to treatment and supervision. However, no drug policy is going to solve the drug problem, Every policy will bring new problems and decrease other problems. It really comes down to which problems we’re willing to live with. A lot of us have strong opinions and would like to decide the right policy, but our political process requires some measure of concensus. (Even if it’s limited.)  I suspect that the only way to get there is to identify the relevant values and debate how the options fit within these values. If the debate ends up getting framed in the context of the culture war, this will be impossible.