It takes a long time for public opinion to change on some issues but sometimes we reach a tipping point where old ideas begin to be abandoned. In 2006 the Republicans won in many states by making an issue of same sex marriage. Today many see their opposition as being a factor which has caused young voters to abandon the party and speed up their decline. Other aspects of the culture wars will take longer to change. At this point we seem to be far away from ending the war on drugs but there is increased discussion of the issue and some signs of hope that it will be possible in the foreseeable future for politicians to discuss change. Mother Jones has devoted an issue to the topic and began with noting any absurdities of the drug war:
…the drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success. (To wit: Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who’ve seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.)
What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on “hard” drugs, but make enforcement fair (no more traffickers rolling on hapless girlfriends to cut a deal. No more Tulias). And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn’t a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos. (Watch Clara discuss the Doritos theory at the 00:12:54 mark of this video, and see “The Patriot’s Guide to Legalization.”
So why don’t we have a rational drug policy? Simple. Forget the Social Security “third rail.” The quickest way to get yourself sidelined in serious policy discussion is to stray from drug war orthodoxy. Even MoJo has skirted the topic for fear of looking like a bunch of hot-tubbing stoners. Such is the power of the culture wars, 50 years on.
After skirting the issue in the past they are now willing to address it, as others occasionally do. There’s still a long way to go before public opinion changes, but at least the process is starting to move a little more towards the mainstream.