Neither commercial legalization – as currently applied to alcohol and tobacco – nor prohibition with massive enforcement and harsh sentences – as currently applied to heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine – constitutes a satisfactory policy toward the problems of substance abuse. The ongoing struggle about how to handle cannabis is caught between those two unsatisfactory poles.
The advocates of prohibition are right to say that substance abuse disorder is a real problem and that commercial availability tends to increase its prevalence compared to regimes of tighter control. The advocates of legalization are right to say that waging “war on drugs” cannot abolish the drug abuse problem and creates unacceptable levels of collateral damage.
The Marron Institute’s Crime and Justice Program works to create a path between seemingly irreconcilable positions of legalization and proscription, towards a sensible national drug policy.
This might involve:
- Tightening alcohol policy with increased taxation and measures to force people whose alcohol use leads them to commit crimes (including drunk driving and domestic violence) to abstain from alcohol.
- Crafting a cannabis policy based on “grudging toleration”: allowing legal access for adults while discouraging use by minors and heavy, chronic use.
- Redirecting drug-law enforcement to minimize violence and disorder.
- Reducing sentences for non-violent drug dealing.
- Eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use.
- Using focused-deterrence approaches to break up disorderly and violent drug markets.
- Mandating desistance rather than mandating treatment for drug-involved offenders.
- Making opiate substitution therapy more widely available.
- Pursuing harm reduction strategies except where those strategies are likely to greatly increase prevalence.