HOUSTON – – A new paradigm is needed in the United States to replace prohibition as the default response to illicit psychoactive drugs, according to drug policy experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. They advocate that punishment should not be the most widely wielded weapon in the new paradigm.
Drawing on decades of government-gathered and publicly available data, the experts contend that U.S. drug policy is premised on incorrect assumptions, aims at the wrong targets and can never succeed. William Martin, director of the Baker Institute’s Drug Policy Program, and Jerry Epstein, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, present their findings and recommendations in a new policy report, “Rx for a U.S. Drug Policy: A New Paradigm.”
“The core strategies of the U.S. war on drugs are eradication, interdiction and incarceration,” said Martin, the institute’s Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy. The war on drugs was launched in the early 1970s during President Richard Nixon’s first term and is based on the concept of prohibition and “zero tolerance” for drug users, producers and traffickers. “After a 40-year and trillion-dollar effort, illicit drugs remain available to meet a remarkably stable demand,” Martin said.
But because government data run counter to a century of anti-drug propaganda, that information plays only a small role in public policy, mass-media presentation and popular perception, the authors said. Martin and Epstein call for a re-examination of the data and sweeping revision of existing strategies. They urge formation of a politically independent national scientific commission, its members chosen by the National Academy of Sciences, in consultation with the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, to facilitate open examination and honest consideration of alternatives to current failed or flawed policies.
“Sound scientific investigation and scrutiny will be essential to any substantial change in U.S. drug policy,” the authors said. “Experiment is the essence of science” but does not fit into the prevailing drug war paradigm, they said. “A primary function of the commission would be to alter that culture.”
The authors point to recent steps to legalize marijuana usage as a sign of changing times. “In contrast to the cultural situation of the early 1970s, we are in a period of transition to a time when marijuana will be legal in some form in most jurisdictions, and nonproblematic use of other now-illicit drugs will be widely tolerated or decriminalized, if not officially legal,” Epstein said. “The Justice Department’s easing up on marijuana users when they abide by their state’s regulations opens the door for states to serve as laboratories for large-scale social experiments that could provide valuable information and limit risk — as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in 1982.”
The authors contend that resistance to any scheme of legalization of now-illicit drugs will inevitably raise the specter of rampant addiction and provoke outcries of surrender to immorality. “Addiction can be a tragic condition, but given the vast disparity in lifetime usage rates among the major illicit drugs – over 100 million of marijuana, 37 million for cocaine, 9 million for crack, 4 million for heroin — and the sharp drop-off in use of all these drugs as people age, how can one argue that their legal status is the key variable?” they ask.
The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Epstein or Martin. For more information, contact David Ruth, director of national media relations at Rice, at [email protected] or 713-348-6327.
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Epstein biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/jerry-epstein.
Martin biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/william-martin.
Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top 10 university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blogs.chron.com/bakerblog.