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The explosion of interest and concern about police use of lethal force that followed the shooting and protests in Ferguson, Missouri was a surprise to the policy community and also to empirical criminology..
It is a standard complaint that modern policy discussions, though replete with references to cost and benefit, lack the dimension of historical example and understanding. From the energy crisis to the progressive income tax, it is difficult to find a policy debate in which it has not been claimed that the lessons of history are being ignored. The patron saint of this kind of incantation is, of course, the philosopher George Santayana and the canonical text in his observation that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana, 1906, p. 284).
Writing about drug abuse in the New York Times in 1970, Gore Vidal remarked that America had “always existed in a kind of time vacuum: we have no public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday” (Vidal, 1972, p. 374). But even given the dismal norm for historical awareness in policy debates, the immunity to historical evidence that characterizes the contemporary discussion of drugs in the United States is peculiarly pervasive. In recent years, historians have begun to compile some accounts of America's adventures with psychoactive substances and their control. But for the most part their work stands unrecognized or ignored by participants in policy debates. So even though the historical record is incomplete in a number of respects, the knowledge base available for those formulating policy is far more adequate than the degree of historical sophistication displayed in either the political arena or most scholarly discussions would suggest.
This chapter is both a summary and a critique of the current debate about decriminalization of drugs in the United States. Section I begins by rehearsing the arguments in favor of decriminalization advanced in the mid-nineteenth century by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty and the late nineteenth-century critique of that argument advanced by James Fitzjames Stephen, “the most powerful and penetrating of the contemporary critics of John Stuart Mill” (Quinton, 1978, p. 87). The Mill-Stephen exchange seems to us to exhaust most of the arguments currently employed in what we call the “polar debate” about drug decriminalization in the United States, a debate in which both sides believe that the only significant question is whether drugs should be prohibited by the criminal law.
Section II adds the two important new wrinkles present in the late twentieth century continuation of the Mill-Stephen exchange as it related to drugs. These new points of emphasis, both prominent in the work of John Kaplan, are the significant role of the costs of maintaining a criminal prohibition in the calculus of policy and the likelihood that separate cost-benefit analyses for each of a wide variety of drugs will produce differing conclusions for different drugs.
Section III restates the decriminalization debate as a clash of presumptions in which those who favor decriminalization argue that when the facts are uncertain, government should presume that a policy that enhances liberty will best serve the public good, and those who support continuation of the criminal sanction contend that in uncertainty it is safest to presume that a continuation of current policy will maximize the public welfare.
What we call trickle-down processes of determining drug policy are unsatisfactory, for two reasons. First, any policy position that can be deduced from sweeping principles is probably itself too broad to serve the public interest efficiently. Second, policy choices usually cannot be inferred at all from broad attitudes toward illicit drugs. Policy choice in drug control is a matter of providing answers to questions like: How many government resources should we devote to drug control rather than other pressing societal problems? Which drugs should be the priority focus of government programs? What specific deleterious consequences of drug use should treatment and prevention programs regard as special priorities for prevention and treatment? What mechanisms should we choose to reduce the supply of illicit drugs? These are questions of means as well as ends, specific choices that force us to identify those aspects of drug use that we regard as particularly problematic.
The right kind of drug policies should be built from the ground up, based on a determination of priority problems. The materials presented in this part of the book have been organized in accordance with this view of the policy process. Chapters 5 and 6 address what are regarded as the two most important problems associated with illicit drug taking: child endangerment and predatory crime. Each chapter assesses what is known about the nature of the problem and the implications of current knowledge for specific patterns of drug policy.
The National Drug Control Strategy, published in September 1989, is not, in several respects, an ordinary government document. Rather, it is a government report that is meant to be read - it is only ninety pages long, excluding appendices, with a fourteen-page introduction personally written by then-“drug czar” William Bennett that seeks to build a rhetorical and philosophical foundation for a multifaceted campaign against drug abuse. The goal is a comprehensive program involving not only national, state and local government but also employers, community groups, and the private sector. Budgetary figures and projections by fiscal year - usually the mother's milk of government planning documents - are relegated to the appendices of the white-on-red-covered document with the presidential seal on the cover. Indeed, the report is intended to serve as a manifesto for a long-term drug control strategy in the United States. By grounding its proposals in strategic rather than merely tactical considerations, this document helps illuminate the basic premises on which public policy is to be based.
Analysis of the National Drug Control Strategy is a window into the three competing schools of thought that divide those in our midst who support some version of a war on drug abuse. We aim in this chapter to illustrate the powerful role of ideology in drug policy choice in the United States, with a special emphasis on the ideological stance that dominates the current government program.
In the United States the social world of street criminality is also a major arena for the use of alcohol and almost all illicit drugs. It is beyond dispute that drug use and crime overlap and interact in a multiplicity of ways. Moreover, the connection between drug use and predatory crime, along with the possible corruption of the young, constitute the major source of public fear and apprehension regarding drugs.
We shall not attempt in this chapter to survey the whole range of relationships between drug use and criminal behavior, which run the gamut from significant questions such as what should constitute a crime all the way to staff and visitor searches in the prison system. Instead, we shall focus on one group of criminal offenses - predatory street crime and burglary - and on the linkage between changes in drug control policy and levels and patterns of that category of criminal activity.
We shall restrict the category of crime that we consider here in this way because it reflects what appears to be at the center of public alarm and concern in relation to drug use. By concentrating on the potential impact of changes in drug control policy on the nature and extent of these crimes, we can direct our attention to the practical significance that should be attached to this topic. It is only by analyzing the effects of those changes that we can discover what is possible for government to accomplish in this field.
This chapter deals with questions that many will regard as not only boring but also as unconnected to the real issues for decision in drug policy. Questions of definition and measurement strike most readers as procedural preliminaries to the discussion of important questions, as niceties to be relegated to a footnote or ignored altogether. But in drug control policy, what we do not define carefully we do not know, and what we do not know can cripple the capacity of policy to confront problems.
One of the hallmarks of an academic treatment of a subject is a concern with questions of definition and scope, with exactly those terms of reference that most people regard as obvious. So our preliminary insistence on the importance of definition here may mark us as hard-core academics. In fact, however, even those academics concerned with drug policy commonly ignore such matters, fearful perhaps that attention to them would be regarded as scholastic quibbling in the face of urgent social problems. But we think that it is worth time and attention to define the term drug and to discover to what extent different parties to the contemporary debate about drug policy define that key term in the same way. We shall show that a basic knowledge of the range of meanings assigned to key terms in the drug control debate is necessary to understanding the policy choices.
This chapter will explore the role of the federal government in determining and carrying out drug control policy. The United States is a nation of myriad different governments that share responsibility for public order and crime control. There are thousands of different police forces in the United States, and many cities have police from three or four different levels of government deployed in the same domain. Fifty-one different prison systems and thousands of local jails share responsibility in the United States. Often, just as government functions overlap, some responsibilities that all would agree should belong to some form of government lie substantially unperformed, as each level of government waits for another level to take the lead in providing or paying for a service. An effective drug control policy thus cannot be designed without taking into account the distinctiveness and complexity of the governmental system in the United States.
A whole chapter on the role of the federal government? Intergovernmental relations seems like an arid, technical topic altogether lacking the elements that enliven debates about drug control. Not surprisingly, the issue of an appropriate federal role has attracted little interest as a conceptual matter, and important issues regarding federal responsibility have been decided in Congress in an offhanded manner on an ad hoc basis. Yet drug control is the important test case of federalism in criminal justice in the 1990s: the subject of the most significant experiment in enlarging the federal lead in taking responsibility for crime control in this century.
At the threshold of the 1990s, control of illicit drugs is the preeminent problem of criminal justice in the United States. Because a high level of public concern produces governmental action in a political democracy, the drug problem has already produced within five years two major federal legislative initiatives, the creation of a new special office headed by a federal “drug czar,” and numerous antidrug campaigns at every level of American government. Although many of these governmental responses themselves increase public awareness of drugs as an issue, public anxiety and alarm about drugs seem to have been an authentic grass-roots phenomenon of the mid-1980s that has taken hold in the American landscape. Drug control seems poised for a long run as a high priority for political action.
This book is about the process of making drug control policy. How are policy choices identified, debated, and made in an atmosphere of intense concern? How are the consequences of governmental policy measured and evaluated? How, if at all, do we learn from our mistakes? We undertook this project convinced that just as much as we need new drug policies, we need a new drug policy process to create an environment in which alternatives can be rationally debated.
What is conspicuously missing from this volume is a neat solution to the complex of phenomena that Americans call the drug problem. The appetite for mood-affecting substances is universal, and it is a chronic condition of American life rather than an acute emergency that is likely to be quickly resolved.
This book presents a comprehensive examination of the drug control policy process in the United States. How are policy choices identified, debated and selected? How are the consequences of governmental policy measured and evaluated? How, if at all, do we learn from our mistakes. The first section deals with four different ways of understanding American drug policy: drug control as ideology, drugs as an issue of definition and measurement, an historical analysis of drug control, and finally, drug control as an occasion for debating the proper role of the criminal law. Zimring and Hawkins also discuss priority problems for drug control and provide a foundation for an improved policy process. They argue that protection of children and youth should shape policy toward illicit crime, with attention to the fact that youth protection objectives may limit the effectiveness of some drug controls.
If there is a universal proposition that is accepted by all parties to the debate on drugs, it is that children and youth should not have unregulated access to potentially harmful psychoactive substances. Even the most ardent libertarians assent to this. There is agreement not only on the direction of drug policy toward the young but also on the priority among all other goals of drug policy that should be accorded to the protection of children and youth. No commentator questions the high, if not dominant, status of child protection. This unanimity extends far beyond the speeches of politicians, being apparent as well in the most substantial works currently available dealing with the drug problem.
There are three reasons that child protection is an especially important aspect of drug control policy: the significance of children as a social resource, many children's lack of capacity for mature decision making, and the difficulty of reversing drug dependencies and habits acquired by children and youth.
Across all areas of public policy, child development is important because children represent the generation that will succeed contemporary adults. The young are also regarded as both immature and vulnerable. As we shall see in the next section, if the lack of capacity for decision making is used to justify paternalistic state drug policies, this absence also calls for a larger investment of resources. Because the young are judged incapable of mature and well-considered decision making, larger amounts of resources should be invested in treatment and prevention programs for this especially vulnerable group.