For years I’ve been writing comments like this about drug policy:
Any drug policy will have problems, probably serious problems. The important questions are:
- Which problems are we most unwilling to live with?
- Which problems are we most willing to tolerate?
- What strategies will help us achieve these goals while maintaining concern for all problems?
Of course, of equal importance is our willingness to regularly re-assess policy to improve our response and address unanticipated problems.
These are really hard questions.
And, it’s been frustrating to read lots of people treating it as though there are simple and obvious answers.
The intersections of addiction, capitalism, medicine, crime, and government, with all their variations, limitations and flaws make this a very difficult problem. We tend to underestimate the existence of unintended consequences and overestimate our influence.
It’s good to see a pretty influential writer at Vox interrogate his own beliefs and assumptions.
By the time I began as a drug policy reporter in 2010, I was all in on legalizing every drug, from marijuana to heroin and cocaine.
It all seemed so obvious to me. Prohibition had failed. Over the past decade, millions of Americans had been arrested and, in many of these cases, locked up for drugs. The government spent tens of billions of dollars a year on anti-drug policies — not just on policing and arresting people and potentially ruining their lives, but also on foreign operations in which armed forces raided and destroyed people’s farms, ruining their livings. Over four decades, the price tag for waging the drug war added up to more than $1 trillion.
. . .
Then I began reporting on the opioid epidemic. I saw friends of family members die to drug overdoses. I spoke to drug users who couldn’t shake off years of addiction, which often began with legal prescription medications. I talked to doctors, prosecutors, and experts about how the crisis really began when big pharmaceutical companies pushed for doctors and the government to embrace their drugs.
. . .
Looking at this crisis, it slowly but surely dawned on me: Maybe full legalization isn’t the right answer to the war on drugs. Maybe the US just can’t handle regulating these potentially deadly substances in a legal environment. Maybe some form of prohibition — albeit a less stringent kind than what we have today — is the way to go.
Read the whole thing here.