Nick Gillespie and I spoke at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference this weekend.
I'm always conflicted by my co-conspirators in the drug reform movement. Most in the movement embrace "decriminalization" as preferable to out and out legalization.
I'd agree that decriminalization is a step in the right direction, but it's too often accompanied by calls for a panoply of new government programs and oodles of taxpayer dollars spent to treat illicit drugs like a public health problem—similar to the way, say, Marion Nestle or Michael Jacobson would like to treat obesity. This is basically the "Dutch model," and it leaves a lot to be desired.
Longtime drug reformer Eric Sterling (a guy I generally admire), for example, said at the conference that his first step toward a post-prohibition America would be "universal health care," accompanied by comprehensive treatment that addicts could obtain rather easily—in Sterling's words, free treatment should be"as easy as ordering a pizza."
Terrific. If there's one surefire way to make sure America never reforms its drug laws, it's telling the public that step one in "drug reform" would be to have taxpayers foot the bill for morphine clinics, needles, and the local addict's relapses.
This would all still be quite a bit better than today's approach of kicking down doors and filling the prisons with pot smokers, of course (treating drug addiction like a public health problem, I mean—universal health care is another animal entirely). But it's a far cry from treating American citizens as actual adults, capable not only of making their own decisions about what they put into their bodies, but also of assuming full responsibility for those decisions.
Fortunately, Nick rather eloquently made the case for complete pharmacological freedom when he took his turn during the closing panel. I looked around at some of the public health folks there while he spoke. Lots of nervous smiles—even a few cringes, particularly when he went after public health sacred cows like the drinking age or the prescription medication regime. These are people who correctly recognize the brutality of the drug war in its current incarnation, but are still rather fond of giving Very Smart People in Government enormous influence over what we chose to eat, drink, and otherwise ingest. The fact that the latter frequently leads to the former, and that they in fact have quite a bit in common with the activists that started the drug war with their support for the Harrison Narcotics Act and gave us alcohol prohibition—well, it all seems to be lost on them.
One interesting side note to the conference: Many of the students stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn. Apparently, a police officer was also staying there. Suspecting that a bunch of college kids in the drug reform movement were probably well-stocked with dope, the cop went to the hotel manager, and the two contacted local authorities. Police were ready to bring in drug dogs to sniff out every room in the hotel. Fortunately (and somewhat amusingly), Graham Boyd—also a speaker at the conference—was staying in the same hotel. Boyd's the director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project. Probably the one guy the police last wanted to see. Boyd (who relayed the story while speaking at my panel) reminded the police and the hotel manager that there are still some scraps to the Fourth Amendment left that haven't been swallowed up by drug prohibition. The police thought better of the situation and—literally—called off the dogs.