(Page 2 of 2)
Ethan Nadelmann is Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Kevin Sabet responds:
It is clear to anyone who fairly looks at the Obama record on drugs that he made some major improvements to our nation’s drug policy. It may not be the changes that Ethan and the legalization movement may have wanted, but for people in the fields of prevention, treatment, and recovery, things like increasing support for community-based prevention, advocating for smart overdose prevention and medication-assisted treatment, and raising the profile of recovery have been a big deal. The biggest deal, of course, was the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which signaled the most significant step towards closing the treatment gap we have seen in more than 30 years. And legalization groups might not like drug courts or HOPE-style programs, which keep offenders with a drug problem accountable by employing carrots and sticks to achieve successful treatment outcomes, but they certainly work to reduce costs and save lives. Sadly, any reforms to the badly broken criminal justice system short of full-scale legalization are irrelevant for ideologues.
As Ethan well knows, no drug czar can simply take money from enforcement and put it into treatment. That is not how the drug budget works. Rather, you have to work with departments themselves to come up with innovative ways to maximize effectiveness. A case in point is how the Obama Administration leveraged dollars from national law enforcement task forces to increase prevention-enforcement partnerships.
As Ethan might not know, marijuana’s individual components—as called for by the Institute of Medicine and American Medical Association—are being widely studied by the National Institutes of Health and private industry. One marijuana-based mouth spray, which delivers a standardized dose of two of active ingredients found in marijuana, is in late stage clinical trials in the U.S. and may likely be approved very soon. Could the process for obtaining marijuana and increasing incentives for research be improved? Most certainly. But, once again, this is very different from allowing smoked, raw, non-standardized marijuana to be sold on the grey market by people with no medical background, as is the case now in many states. Even the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) acknowledges that the medical marijuana system is tantamount to legalization. It is no wonder that every major medical association has come out against raw, smoked marijuana by voter referenda as opposed to the idea of taking marijuana’s components and delivering them in a safe way through a pharmacy. Since we don’t smoke opium to get the effects of morphine, why should we smoke marijuana to receive its therapeutic effects?
I have to hand it to the legalization groups for their relentless, mega million- dollar campaigns to radically change drug policy. Their extreme policies have been nicely coated in catchphrases like “public health,” “common sense,” and “human rights.” They have indeed convinced many that current policy is so bad it cannot be reformed, and that the only alternative is legalization. Of course, we know that there are plenty of things we can and should do before we institute a policy that will result in greater addiction, crime (legal alcohol is the reason for 1 million more arrests a year than all illegal drugs combined, and the black/grey market for tobacco under today’s high cigarette tax regime is thriving), illness, and suffering.
I’m hoping that whomever is elected next month will not be duped into believing that our only choices are enforcement-heavy prohibition or legalization. We can do much better than either.