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the extremist "drug warriors" and "legalizers" lies a third way
of thinking about drug policy in America
By Mark A.R. Kleiman
Illustrations by Gary Tanhauser
says Santayana, "consists of redoubling your efforts when you have
lost sight of your aim." An old Alcoholics Anonymous adage defines
insanity as "continuing to do the same thing and expecting to get
a different result." Between them, these two aphorisms define the
condition of U.S. drug policy and the public debate about it. Our
current policies, largely misconceived, are doing much more harm
than they should and much less good than they might.
of the problem is simply the complexity of the phenomena we are
trying to manage. The heterogeneity of drugs and drug users defies
simple categorization. As a result, the serious policy questions
refuse to line up along the kind of easily comprehended polarity
that fits two-party politics and point/counterpoint journalism.
the discussion of drug policy remains unproductively polarized between
the "drug warriors," who blame "drugs" for all our social ills and
advocate stricter controls and harsher punishments, and the "legalizers,"
who blame drug prohibition instead and favor more relaxed controls.
As a result, a wide variety of sensible policy modifications that
fail to fit the ideological predilections of either extreme simply
do not get discussed.
only way to close the gap between what we know how to do and what
we are actually doing is to develop a third way of thinking about
drug policy. Using only existing knowledge and resources, the nation's
drug problem could be much smaller five years from now than it is
today. Repairing our broken policies will require a clearer vision
of what the drug problem is and more moderate expectations about
what drug-control policies can actually accomplish.