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News (Media Awareness Project) - UK: Review: Boxing Cleverer
Title:UK: Review: Boxing Cleverer
Published On:2011-07-09
Source:Economist, The (UK)
Fetched On:2011-07-10 06:02:01
The War on Drugs

BOXING CLEVERER

How to Make Sense of Drugs Policy

Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know. By Mark Kleiman,
Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken. Oxford University Press USA; 256
pages; $16.95.

THE war on drugs, like the war on terror, is proving a dear and
dreary struggle against faceless enemies on shifting terrain. The
latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
(UNODC), published on June 23rd, gives little reason to think it is being won.

In America, where cannabis consumption had been falling, the UNODC
thinks it is staging a comeback, along with ecstasy. In western
Europe use of cannabis is stable, but it has increased in eastern
Europe and Latin America. In Asia synthetic stimulants are on the rise.

More illegal substances are produced in the country in which they are
consumed, whether cannabis in London or ecstasy and crystal meth in
Indonesia. Fast-changing designer drugs are marketed before
regulators have figured out whether to outlaw them, and the line
between using drugs to combat medical conditions and taking them
simply to improve performance--in exams, sports or sex--is
increasingly blurred. Against a backdrop of violence in producer
countries such as Mexico and Colombia, and mass incarceration in
consumer countries including America and Britain, the argument over
what to do about drugs is escalating.

So there has rarely been greater need for a cool, dispassionate voice
to sift through the facts. Indeed, three such voices speak in this
book. Mark Kleiman teaches public policy at the University of
California, Los Angeles; he has written influentially about drug
policy for a couple of decades. Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken,
occasional co-authors, teach at Carnegie Mellon and Pepperdine
universities respectively.

Dedicated to the families and friends of substance abusers, and the
professionals who work with them, "Drugs and Drug Policy" is a
practical book which aims to debunk myths. It is where you go to look
up how to compare the pharmacological risk inherent in different
substances (there is a table), whether such a thing as an "addictive
personality" exists that can predict susceptibility to drugs (not as
such), or the consequences of legalising drugs in countries that are
said to have done so (none really has, despite loose talk about
Portugal and the Netherlands).

The authors are at their most interesting when they breeze with that
same assumption of airy neutrality through what are in fact
politically charged questions about policy. In 2009 Mr Kleiman wrote
the best book in years on penal reform, another subject with a strong
whiff of the culture wars. In "When Brute Force Fails" he argued that
continuing to lock up offenders en masse was neither affordable nor
desirable; what was needed was a smarter approach to enforcement,
with strategically chosen targets pour encourager les autres and
swifter, shorter, surer sentences to influence individual conduct.

The authors show the same instincts this time, looking at strategies
for putting away dealers (focus on the violent ones), treating
addiction (save your money for addicts who really can't go straight
on their own) and so forth. Two successful "coerced abstinence"
programmes come in for particular praise. Hope, a programme in
Hawaii, tells offenders on probation who are involved with drugs to
ditch the habit, against the certainty of a prompt, short but
escalating jail sentence if they fail the frequent drug tests. Drug
use has plummeted: one year into the programme, 80% of the
probationers have been drug-free for three months or more. Another
scheme, Sobriety 24/7, takes the same brusque approach with repeat
drunk-drivers in South Dakota, testing them twice a day to see if
they have had a drink. More than two-thirds of the group never "blow
hot", and drunk-driving arrests are down by more than half even after
the ex-offenders are no longer subject to testing.

Mr Kleiman's views on the great question of the day--whether drugs
should be legalised--are nuanced. He appreciates that legalising
drugs could reduce the violence surrounding the trade and the
degradation of serious abusers, but values the role he thinks
prohibition plays in limiting consumption. This paper has long
advocated legalisation, but has never claimed it was a trouble-free
decision. There is plenty of common ground with this thoughtful and
clearly written book.
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