Jun 6, 2011

Drug policy blogging

Mark Kleiman reasserts his role as the resident drug policy concern troll:
The grandiloquently-named Global Commission on Drug Policy has issued its final press release report. Not a new idea to be found; just recycled legalization talking points. Not surprising, with a commission long on celebrity but short on relevant expertise and a staff of “advisers” drawn entirely from within the “drug policy reform” cocoon.

I wouldn’t mention it, except an academic colleague asked me at lunch Friday about the “new United Nations report about the failure of the war on drugs,” and a Canadian network called and asked me to join in a debate on the report (invitation withdrawn after they asked me whether I was for or against decriminalization and I answered simply “No”). So it looks as if the decision to put resources into press relations rather than analysis has paid off.
This is a petty and irritating misrepresentation of the report. Let's take a look at the executive summary:
Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:

End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.
Sounds like a basically uncontroversial—even bland—list of measures that would be labeled "sellout" by a committed civil-libertarian legalizer.  Kleiman himself would probably agree with most of them if they were phrased in the right way by the right person.  Of course the point of the report is mostly to get media attention; as he rightly points out, most of the ideas in it have been knocking around for years.  The reason why they're giving them the umpteenth repetition is that no one, especially in the US, seems to be listening.

As drug policy reformers have been pointing out for the last thirty years, the war on drugs has been a gigantic disaster significantly contributing to an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.  Kleiman more-or-less agrees with this, but instead of constructively engaging with a report that is pointed in the right direction, he busts out the troll.  The really irritating thing is that he has written an excellent book, When Brute Force Fails, about the shortcomings of the jackboot-style drug war and how it might be improved.  But any reformer's report that doesn't cater to Kleiman's preferences, i.e., one that has "DRUGS ARE REALLY BAD ALWAYS" printed on every other page in 48 point font, must be sarcastically dismissed.  What a chump.

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