I. Failure Of Contemporary Drug Policy To Meet Its Stated Objectives
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It has become a widely accepted fact that drug policy, as employed during the past three decades by the federal government, and in state and local jurisdictions throughout the United States, has largely failed to meet its stated objectives.
Current drug policy relies on an "enforcement" or "penal" model, emphasizing interdiction, arrest, prosecution and incarceration of both distributors and users of controlled substances as its primary "weapons" in what has often been characterized as a "war on drugs." Commonly known substances generally designated as "controlled" or illegal include: hallucinogens (marijuana, hashish, mescaline and LSD), stimulants (amphetamines and cocaine), and depressants (opium, heroin and barbiturates). (1)
Notwithstanding the vast public resources expended on the enforcement of penal statutes against users and distributors of controlled substances, contemporary drug policy appears to have failed, even on its own terms, in a number of notable respects. These include: minimal reduction in the consumption of controlled substances; failure to reduce violent crime; failure to markedly reduce drug importation, distribution and street-level drug sales; failure to reduce the widespread availability of drugs to potential users; failure to deter individuals from becoming involved in the drug trade; failure to impact upon the huge profits and financial opportunity available to individual "entrepreneurs" and organized underworld organizations through engaging in the illicit drug trade; the expenditure of great amounts of increasingly limited public resources in pursuit of a cost-intensive "penal" or "law-enforcement" based policy; failure to provide meaningful treatment and other assistance to substance abusers and their families; and failure to provide meaningful alternative economic opportunities to those attracted to the drug trade for lack of other available avenues for financial advancement. (2)
Moreover, a growing body of evidence and opinion suggests that contemporary drug policy, as pursued in recent decades, may be counterproductive and even harmful to the society whose public safety it seeks to protect. This conclusion becomes more readily apparent when one distinguishes the harms suffered by society and its members directly attributable to the pharmacological effects of drug use upon human behavior, from those harms resulting from policies attempting to eradicate drug use. (3)
With aid of these distinctions, we see that present drug policy appears to contribute to the increase of violence in our communities. It does so by permitting and indeed, causing the drug trade to remain a lucrative source of economic opportunity for street dealers, drug kingpins and all those willing to engage in the often violent, illicit, black market trade.
Meanwhile, the effect of present policy serves to stigmatize and marginalize drug users, thereby inhibiting and undermining the efforts of many such individuals to remain or become productive, gainfully employed members of society. Furthermore, current policy has not only failed to provide adequate access to treatment for substance abuse, it has, in many ways, rendered the obtaining of such treatment, and of other medical services, more difficult and even dangerous to pursue. (4)
The appropriate goal of any drug policy must be to decrease the prevalence and spread of harmful drug use and substance abuse, and to minimize the harms associated with such problems where they are found to exist. (5) Additionally, any policy which creates more harmful results than the societal problems it proposes to solve, must be re-evaluated in terms of the advisability of further pursuit of such policy. Further, to justify continuation of any public policy, the costs incurred must always be weighed against the benefits derived. It is within this context, and with these criteria in mind, that present approaches to drug policy must be objectively assessed and, where appropriate, alternative models for future policy evaluated and considered. (6)
In making its assessment, the Task Force has concluded that contemporary drug policy has failed by virtually every objective standard. Accordingly, we call for a dramatic shift in thinking and approach in development and implementation of future drug control efforts. At this time, although not recommending "decriminalization" or "legalization" of most substances currently designated as "controlled" under federal and state penal statutes, the Task Force does urge that certain incremental steps be taken to alleviate the more easily resolved economic and social costs associated with current drug policy. These include: the decriminalization of marijuana; further measures attempting to separate the "hard" drug markets (e.g., for heroin and cocaine), from markets for "soft" drugs (e.g., marijuana and hashish); the downward modification of existing draconian sentences for other non-violent drug offenses; the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases; and increased judicial discretion in the sentencing of drug offenders, with further reliance upon drug treatment and other diversionary programs as alternatives to incarceration for the non-violent drug offender. Moreover, we highly recommend the further study and serious consideration of other alternative, non-criminal, regulatory drug control measures, developed in accordance with a "public health" rather than a "penal" model of drug policy.