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March 11, 2007

Reform’s Wrong Turn

There’s a headline below the fold of the first page of today’s San Francisco Chronicle: ‘US effort to kill coca failing in Colombia.’ The longish story is continued on a page it shares with a somewhat shorter NY Times item on Bush’s trip to South America.

My first response was to wonder how anyone could have thought ‘Plan Colombia’ had a chance of success from the time it was first hatched under Clinton. Then I realized I’d acquired a much deeper awareness of our government’s commitment to its ludicrous drug policy than the ‘average’ American because of my four year stint as editor of Drug Sense Weekly. Also, though my more recent experience has been mostly with marijuana users, it  provided abundant evidence that the policy’s extreme intolerance of criticism applies equally to pot policy. In fact, judging from John Walters’ priorities, it may be even more intense.

Thus although the ideas that our drug policy is ludicrous, can't ‘succeed,’  and is based on unproven assumptions, may be painfully obvious to me, it’s equally clear that both our media and most reformers resist such overt  criticism; one of the reasons that, sometime in the past three years, my biggest problem shifted from trying to understand the failures of pot prohibition to having to understand the resistance of reform leadership to what I was attempting to tell them.

I think I finally have it: the first (small and underfunded) organization to develop in opposition to the drug war was NORML; it quuickly gained a measure of success but unfortunately,  took a wrong turn almost immediately, one it has yet to recognize. The best way to understand the wrong turn itself is by realizing that if NORML’s ‘R’ had represented ‘repeal’ instead of ‘reform,’ history might have been different.

‘Reform’ implies an effort to salvage something that has merit; ‘repeal’ implies the policy itself was a big mistake from the beginning. By its uncrtical implied agreement with erroneous assumptions about drug addiction dating to before 1914,  NORML, the first large grass roots reform organization,  became, ironically,  a pied piper leading reform in the wrong direction.

Nor are the reasons that difficult to understand: for one thing, most reformers in other organizations focused on different drug war abuses are also pot smokers; for another, the public, including an unknown number of pot initiates who were themselves chronic users  for a while, has entirely diffrent ideas about ‘recreational drug use’ from most reform activists. They see it, at best,  as  being somewhat dangerous and unattractive behavior which is not entriely benign, thus they contiune to accept a drug war with a much higher price tag than they realize, as a 'logical' alternative to 'legalization.' Ironically, that also translates into accepting chronic (but ’legal’) use of far more problematic alcohol and tobacco, without once realizing that to the extent pot prohibition 'works,'  the chances our most troubled youth will use them both are greatly increased...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at March 11, 2007 08:49 PM