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August 24, 2007

A Long Rhetorical Question (Political)

In general, policies are formal statements of belief by which organizations justify rules they have passed to control the behavior of their membership. Obviously, the nature and scope of policies will vary with the size, scope, and purpose of the organization; to begin with a simple example, the owners of a restaurant may choose to have dress codes for staff,  patrons, or both and codes may also be different for lunch and dinner. Those who don’t want to conform are free to work in, or patronize, other restaurants.

 Policy problems intensify when the organization is the only game in town, as with a government. Even then, there may be enough wiggle room between the policies of village, county, and state governments, to provide an acceptable range of choice for all who want to live in a given area.

Other variables have to do with how rigorously those enforcing a policy— in large organizations, usually different from those who created it— choose to do so: does the maitre’d politely present the tieless guest with a selection to choose from, or does a bouncer shove a non-compliant customer out the side door? There may also be different standards observed in the handling of different policy violations: hookers may be allowed to solicit customers along certain streets, but barred from the lobbies of expensive hotels;  certain drugs may  be legally prescribed by licensed physicians; but mere possession of others will be cause for arrest and could result in charges  ranging from misdemeanor to felony. Finally; compliance with certain policies often varies with the targeted population.

Given such a wide range of possibilities, is it any wonder that modern America, beset by a growing population of citizens and potential citizens in a shrinking and contentious world would have trouble enforcing an irrational drug policy which is at odds with both common sense and modern pharmacology?

The short answer to that rhetorical question is a resounding no. However the long answer must be qualified by noting that, in general, the more a policy is framed in terms that don't address applicable reality, the more difficult will be its enforcement, and the less willing the organization to admit or correct the failures. America’s current major wars against terror and drugs are good examples.

A war on “terror” didn’t make much sense when it was announced because terror is a tactic classically employed by weak rebels against powerful adversaries. The invasion of Iraq represented a tactical error; by devoting critical military and economic assets to a battle we didn’t have to fight, we allowed the criminal organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks to regroup in Afghanistan, while enhancing its legitimacy in the eyes of many Muslims (roughly 40 % of the world’s population). The main factors limiting the impact of the cluster of policy errors committed in response to 9/11 are that Bush must leave office in early 2009 and the defeats we are sustaining in Iraq are increasingly difficult to conceal; even with the tacit cooperation of many media outlets.
A War on Terror really invites comparison with the Drug War and the Cold War (all capitalized for emphasis). In that context, Viet Nam and Iraq can be seen as unnecessary military campaigns which did great damage to innocent people while squandering American lives and economic resources. The Drug War is comparable because although it didn’t become global until the Sixties, it was a domestic fraud from its inception in 1906 and its only success has been the ability of its federal lobbyists to conceal their unbroken record of failure from the American polity.

The good news, to the extent that concept can ever be applied to American drug policy, is that its exposure as a war on marijuana allows hope that the public may yet understand that they have been tacitly supporting a costly fraud for nearly a century. A current flood of developments is sending mixed signals about those hopes, which have to be compared to the ones dashed earlier in 1972 when Nixon buried the Shafer Commission’s report, again in 1977 when NORML leaders foolishly attacked Jimmy Carter’s drug advisor, and more recently in 1992 when an unprepared Bill Clinton denied ever inhaling.

As time permits, I will try to explain those references in more detail and also finish the story of how the hippies were finally introduced to reefer.

I’ve got a lot on my plate...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at August 24, 2007 06:23 PM