Skip to main content

Why Isn't the Drug War a Mainstream Political Issue?

Submitted by smorgan on
Pete Guither has a typically observant post noting the lack of serious drug policy discussion among top-tier political bloggers:
Obviously, to drug policy reformers, the war on drugs is one of the critical issues of our time -- it affects everything, from criminal justice and fundamental Constitutional rights to education to foreign policy to poverty and the inner cities, and on and on.

So it can be baffling to note the degree to which serious discussions about the drug war tend to be missing from the major political blogs on the right and the left.
Worse yet, the reluctance of established political blogs to enter the drug policy debate is dwarfed by the longstanding refusal of mainstream journalists and politicians to do so. Drug reporting in the mainstream press is an ongoing abomination, with exceptions so rare that they provoke widespread fascination when they occur.

Why then is America's political culture so desperate to avoid discussing this issue? Pete argues correctly that both parties have been so consistently bad on drug policy that neither side has moral standing to condemn the other. He's talking about bloggers, but this idea has broad implications. So long as both parties remain essentially comfortable wasting billions in tax dollars on a failed drug control strategy, there is no incentive to exhaust political capital challenging the status quo.

D.C. radio personality Kojo Nnamdi offered a complementary theory this morning on NPR, which I find equally helpful. Referencing the same excellent Washington Post story mentioned in Pete's post, Nnamdi suggested that politicians realize something is wrong, but are unsure what else to propose. There's a lot to this when you consider how ignorant most politicians are about the finer points of the war on drugs. As obvious as it is to many of us that progress can't occur until the drug war ends, this conversation is dark territory for a politician with aggressive enemies and a flimsy grip on the subject matter. Nor are they eager to familiarize themselves with an issue that lacks apparent traction and is perceived (often erroneously, but still) as politically suicidal.

Reformers struggle to explain how we'll overcome these obstacles, and I'm skeptical of anyone who thinks they've figured it out. Our watershed moment will arrive, I believe, through events beyond our control. Recent discussion of the drug war's role in financing terror provides just one example of how new priorities can raise doubts about the old ones.

The future will bring many unexpected changes, but it will never redeem drug prohibition and its infinitely corrupting, ruinous legacy. I don't know what it will take to finally put this horrible war on trial, but I'm certain we'll find out.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.