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Exit Strategies for the War on Drugs, Part I: Framing the Discussion

(Glen Stark has provided the first installment in a multi-part discussion about the challenges we'll have when crafting a post-prohibition system. We thought it was interesting enough to post to our home page. - Dave) I am gradually of the opinion that drug-policy reform is now a sure thing, and the discussion will need to shift to alternative policies. This is the first in a multi-part series, in which I prattle on about what comes next after the war on drugs. This post attempts to formulate a useful basis for the discussion of the subject.

The following is available in full, in correct formatting, here.

The Guardian has an excellent article: Prohibition's failed. Time for a new drugs policy. The first line sums it up perfectly "". It's clear that the debate now needs to be about what comes next. We've created a stupid war against the citizenry our own country. It's completely fucking up our civil liberties, and in fact the entire premise is completely unconstitutional. Argentina's government has realized this, and if we lived in a healthier democracy, we would have figured out the same thing by now. The good news is we seem to be getting there, so the time for figuring out an exit strategy would seem to be now. The issues aren't simple. We have a monstrous police-state machinery in place. We have to pull out the troops and integrate them back into society, and provide them with counselling to reintegrate them into normal society. While this should be an easy sell, as there is a peace-dividend (reduced spending on law-enforcement and prisons, improved civil liberties, reduced crime...) the drug-warriors don't want to give up sucking at the government teat, and form a powerful lobby. The most difficult question of course is "okay, prohibition doesn't work, what now?". Unfortunately, the people who should be working on this are still too afraid to admit prohibition has failed. While they get up to speed, the most productive discussions in this arena are taking place online, in in the periphery of other discussions. I'd like to discuss the issue more directly.


So, let's identify some (hopefully) uncontroversial goals, by which we can judge whether a drug policy is working or not.
  • minimize addiction rates.
  • minimize overdose deaths.
  • protect children and uninformed consumers.
  • minimize crime (e.g. junkies stealing to get their 'fix')
There are other effects which are more difficult to quantify, such as health impacts (cancer and such) and effects on productivity. While these are worth considering, I think it's a reasonable approach to consider them second-order effects. Once we have a policy which optimizes the easily measured first-order effects, we can worry about the second order ones. The key thing to keep in mind here is prohibition is a nightmarish failure, regardless of which effects you consider. It doesn't accomplish any of the desired effects. The results of prohibition are so disastrously bad, that complete deregulation might end up working just as well, without the enormous cost (socially and economically) of funding the war. An error the drug warriors make is framing the discussion in terms of "zero-tolerance". They want to completely eliminate all drug use. What the last 100 years has shown is that that won't happen. You can keep spending more money, you can keep use the constitution as toilet paper after shitting on people's civil rights, you can get more and more violent and intolerant, you can impose increasingly draconian laws, and people will still use drugs. The figures are there. It takes enormous cognitive dissonance to deny them, so let's stop doing There remains of course the question of how much we are willing to pay to achieve those goals. I suspect that the people who are so willing to spend billions on the drug war, will be less willing to spend the same billions on counselling, care, rehabilitation, education, and maintenance programs. Fortunately, the drug war has been so damned expensive, anything we come up with likely be much more effective at a greatly reduced financial cost. This will allow us to frame all such harm reduction spending in terms of savings over the prohibitionist approach. Having identified a set of goals which I hope we can all agree on, let us consider what will be needed to implement a sane drug policy. It's my conviction that a good drug policy will involve the following components.
  1. Rational evaluation of drug harm.
  2. Honest drug education.
  3. Honest drug scheduling (a rational classification system).
  4. A sane handling of the respective classes of drugs.
  5. Reality based assessment of policy effects.
  6. More power to states and communities for deciding drug policies.
Each of these points is non-trivial, and will require some discussion. Thus they will be the subject of future posts. Some might disagree with necessity of a drug scheduling system at all, and would advocate regulating all drugs like we do alcohol. While I see some merits to such an extremely libratarian approach, I would argue against pursuing such a goal for the following reasons: It's unrealistic in today's political climate, it's too rapid and extreme a change, and I suspect such a policy might be nearly as harmful as the current policy. If it's not clear to me, it's going to be extremely unpalatable for the average citizen. Keeping the classification system allows to handle the approach in a more reasonable and rationed manner. We can agree to pursue a policy that accomplished the stated goals, and analyse each drug case by case, based on a rational assessment of its relative harm, made by qualified medical researchers. It also allows us to separate the questions "do we need drug policy reform", and "what is a good drug policy for drug X". The answer to the former question is simple, the answer to the latter is, in some cases, rather difficult. For example, I am torn on what constitutes a good policy for Heroin or Crack (I do know that current American policies are the wrong answer, but I'm not sure heroin and crack bars are the right answer).

Conclusion and caveats:

To successfully advocate for drug policy reform, I think keeping the above goals in mind is extremely useful. It provides a concrete, uncontroversial framework for evaluating the failure of current policy, and provides some useful indications for steps in a positive direction. There may be additional goals which are useful to bring into the discussion, but in the terrible situation we currently find ourselves in, we should strive to work toward unifying, uncontroversial goals. Once these are acheived, we can open up more controversial, difficult discussions, such as "what right does the government have telling me what I can put in my body anyway", or the ethical merits of a drug-free lifestyle versus the spiritual benefits of psychotropic drugs.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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starting point

Although it was done decades ago,the NAS report "An Analysis of Marijuana Policy" included some recommendations that should be considered as well as a thorough breakdown of policy options.

Our exit strategy for the war against drugs:

Its the same scam by the same scamming high ups who can't seem to stop bullying people for the sake of absolute power,profit,and control of everyone.All we are saying is that the exit strategy should be stated that any mimic of how alcohol prohibition was started, operated and applied to any person, plant or substrate is unconstitutional therefore illegal to force on other people,places,and things, applying the recognition of the ending of alcohol prohibition to the end of this insane war against drugs and the other unjust wars that the people who run it keep starting for profit while ignoring the massively inflicted suffering and unfair treatment of most people.

The improved exit strategy for the war against drugs:

We the people clearly declare: Hey unjust war/war against drugs starters/operators! Resign and get out ! Its what you should have done in 1933 and sooner!


Isn't there anyway that a Nationwide petition could be formed to show how many people are truly for the legalization of marijuana at the very least? At least a state by state petition that shows that there are millions of people who do not want this drug war to keep going in the direction its headed

Some ideas

Heroin bars, in my opinion, really are a great idea for two reasons. The most important one is that there is a completely effective antidote for heroin overdoses that could be kept in hand with trained staff ready to administer it. The other reason is that people on heroin are just going to sit in a chair or lie on a couch, hardly moving, almost unconscious. It might look extremely ugly and "wrong" to a lot of people, but it really would be an easy place to manage (as long as you have enough space).

Coke and crack bars are more complicated because there is no antidote for cocaine that i know of (they're working on one, but it's also a vaccine, not just an antidote. plus i don't think it's been approved yet.) You can't have a place where people are overdosing and dying two or three times and month and just keep the place open. One possibility I've thought of would be to make everyone wear a heart rate monitor and only sell the stuff in small quantities so you could refuse to sell to people until they're heart rate comes down. But that would probably be unworkable. Plus, i think with cocaine there's also issues with breathing that won't necessarily be dealt with by monitoring heart rate. Maybe an MD can come up with something, but anything we try to do to control a coke party would probably be unworkable. The only possibility would be to just not allow coke or crack bars and just let people overdose at home. Sounds horrible, but it just seems too fucked up to have a bar where two or three people die every month and keep it open.

Having stores that sell the stuff without people being able to use it right there would probably be a good choice. One would go in there, grab whatever drug, pay at the register, and go home. They should give harm reduction lessons at the stores (for free). It wouldn't be mandatory, but it would be there. The packages the drugs would come in would have the most important harm reduction information on them. They would also give away harm reduction brochures for every drug (which would be more elaborate than what's on the package), and they would remind people to take the lessons by putting a sign at the register. The lessons should be about fifteen or twenty minutes. Maybe half an hour at the most for the most complicated drugs. You want people to feel like it's no bother to stay at least one time and listen to it. They should give the lessons as many times during the day as possible. Also, they could have referrals to treatment at those stores. Also, at the exit, they should have (like at erowid) a big thing that says "know your substance. know your body. know your mind". There should be at least two types of these stores (preferably more): the ones that sell narcotics and the ones that sell hallucinogens (you could have more harm reduction lessons per day for each drug if you had fewer drugs to cover).


since there's gonna be harm reduction teachers there, you might as well have them provide first aid counseling too.

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