Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Editorial: Evidence Disparities in the Drug War

A legislative battle currently underway in Idaho illustrates an "evidence disparity" at work in US drug policy. The state's legislature, conservative but starting to favor different approaches to substance abuse, recently approved $16.8 million of funding for treatment programs, but Gov. Butch Otter vetoed it. Not that Otter opposes such programs in principle -- he says Idaho should have them -- but he wants to "ensure that taxpayer dollars are used carefully, responsibly and to the best possible advantage" in that context, according to reporting by the Boise paper New West.

I don't know enough about the details of Idaho's drug treatment programs to say whether they're well-designed or not. Odds are they are needed. But I wish such care would be put into the criminal justice side of drug policy. Is arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating drug law violators in large number a "careful" or advantageous use of tax monies? (Hint: Look at the availability of drugs and their prices, which have plummeted over these last most serious decades of the drug war. That means the answer is "NO.") Otter could at least claim consistency if he were also calling for an end to the drug war's imprisonment program, or even just scaling it back. But if he's doing so I've not heard that.

In this week, as in most other weeks I remember, the actions of governments all over exhibit this evidence disparity:

* In Mexico, dramatic evidence in the form of nationwide, gruesome violence shows that prohibition is dangerous and that enforcing it is futile. But Mexico continues to fight the drug war and suffer that cost.
* In California, the feds have garnered five year sentences against a couple who provided marijuana to patients, despite evidence that marijuana is helpful to patients.
* Alaska politicians are trying hard to overturn the state's constitutional protection of private marijuana possession, despite a lack of evidence demonstrating that marijuana is any threat.
* In states around the country, moves are afoot to ban the hallucinogenic plant salvia divinorum, despite a lack of evidence for danger or widespread use. One legislator wants to "help" salvia users by giving them five-year prison terms! Where's the evidence supporting that?

I support having policies that are based on evidence. But let's put all of the evidence, and all of the policies, on an equal footing. The drug warriors who are putting people in prison should bear the burden of proof for their policies, a burden under which their philosophy will undoubtedly collapse. Because it is the truth that is disparate -- the case for legalization is overwhelming -- and if measured evenly, that truth will indict the drug war beyond any and all reasonable doubts. Prohibition is indefensible, and the drug war is a failure and travesty. So let's really talk about the evidence, and do it right. The day on which happens will be ours.
Politics & Advocacy The Drug Debate
from Drug War Chronicle, Issue #529, 3/28/08

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