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October 25, 2009

The Drug War and Academe

Last week’s discovery that the clinically ignorant representative of a brand new academic discipline would be given an authoritative voice in a forum on the medical use of cannabis was a reminder that most leading drug policy academics are also bereft of clinical experience; yet they exert an important influence by protecting a threadbare policy against exposure of its many failures. Although few in number and relatively unknown to the general public, they are based at reputable universities and have, over time, become critical to the policy's survival.

In fact, the drug war probably could not tolerate honest scrutiny of even a third of its failures were it not for the cover provided by key respected academics I've come to think of as the drug war's loyal "Gang of Four."

All have published extensively, often in collaboration, and are accorded considerable respect within the academic community: Mark Kleiman of UCLA, Peter Reuter of Maryland, Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon, and Rob MacCoun of UC Berkeley. Their considerable influence is dependent on the skillful substitution of rhetoric for logic thus allowing them to sound sincere and reasonable while carefully avoiding the criticism appropriate for a policy of perennial failure, and lacking any evaluation by reasonable standards. Our drug policy also prevents its victims from being studied clinically or objectively; Instead, their arrests for possession of forbidden agents ("drugs of abuse") automatically labels them as mentally ill, criminals, or worse.

The Gang typically cites the unreliability of data from criminal markets but never admits the obvious: that those markets were created by the policy itself and that all market participants, including law enforcement, have eventually been corrupted by the same excessive profits enabled by the policy. This reticence to criticize drug policy, has been the federal default since Nixon and renders any admission the policy may have been mistaken almost impossible. In that sense, it's path dependence in action; the global default now seems to be that whatever its flaws, the drug war is on a par with the global economy: too important to fail.

That the hard evidence behind my contrary assertions is unique can't be denied; however the fact that it's been collected from admitted drug users makes it vulnerable. That it also contradicts long-held beliefs that have been tacitly endorsed by highly esteemed policy "experts" doesn't help.

Also the fact that applicant demographics and initiation ages, provide a historical context for the expansion of a small criminal market that began to expand rapidly in the mid Sixties is data that can't be denied, but has always been conspicuously absent from official accounts.

Of course, that will be met with claims that my data isn't representative of the whole criminal market, a claim with which I have to agree. In fact, I suspect if that market could be measured, it might prove even bigger than the feds have ever realized; or would dare admit.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at October 25, 2009 12:49 AM