FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

New Drugs, Same Mistakes

by GRANT SMITH

Partisan bitterness has become a familiar feature of Capitol Hill politics. But given the recent debt debacle, it was little surprise that two committee rooms full of congressional lawmakers were giddy at the chance to sing bipartisan praises and wave through legislation that criminalizes possession and sale of “K2,” “spice,” “bath salts,” and other synthetic drugs.

Despite growing consensus that there is an urgent need for a new direction in our nation’s drug policies, and recognition from the Global Commission on Drug Policy and others that the 40 year old war on drugs is a resounding failure, many lawmakers are still shy to question the wisdom of proposals to criminalize more people and the drugs they use.

Synthetic drugs that imitate the effects of marijuana and other illegal drugs have been sensationalized since they first appeared on store shelves. Many people are attracted to these products because the drugs do not show up in drug tests and it was not a crime to use or sell them until recently.

Much controversy has centered on the marketing of these drugs as incense or other household products even though they are often consumed. Rather than step in to regulate synthetic drugs, impose age restrictions and product labeling requirements, the government did nothing until several tragic events involving young people received extensive media coverage.

State and federal lawmakers have forged ahead with proposals to ban synthetic drugs before scientists could better understand and evaluate the products for health risks and benefits. Empirical evidence has yet to surface that shows synthetic drugs pose a threat to public health that warrants criminalization.

Lawmakers have a long track record of passing ineffective laws, and its unwavering support for the war on drugs is no exception. Enforcement of marijuana prohibition, in particular, has wasted billions of dollars subjecting millions of American citizens to arrest for nonviolent drug law violations. Marijuana law violations make up half of all drug arrests annually.

And just as we have seen with marijuana, criminalizing synthetic drugs will cede control of the drugs to the criminal market. Our policy should enable the government to enforce strict regulations and controls on a legal market for synthetic drugs that monitors production, minimizes public harm and generates tax revenue.

Congress continues to vigorously fund and escalate the drug war even as Washington seeks to reduce federal spending. Enforcing a federal ban on synthetic drugs won’t be cheap. Moreover, organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have cautioned against creating unnecessary federal crimes that inappropriately expand the reach of the federal government into local affairs. Since the vast majority of drug enforcement is carried out by state and local agencies, Congress is essentially passing the costs of this legislation on to them.

Commenting on synthetic drugs during a committee session this week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) remarked that “we are in a new era of drugs.”

A new era calls for a new approach, and Congress has an opportunity here to provide for comprehensive drug education, rigorous scientific study to better understand what is in synthetic drugs, and a robust system of regulation and control of the synthetic drug market. Lawmakers need not look far for a successful model. The federal government’s approach to dealing with tobacco has been enormously successful at reducing youth and adult tobacco use in recent decades and millions of people didn’t have to be arrested and branded with criminal convictions to achieve success.

Lawmakers must put the brakes on this failed approach to drug policy, stop wasting taxpayer dollars and destroying people’s lives.

Grant Smith is the federal policy coordinator in the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs in Washington, D.C.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
Leslie Scott
Trump in the Middle East: New Ideas, Old Politics
George Wuerthner
Environmental Groups as Climate Deniers
Pauline Murphy
The Irish Dead: Fighting Fascism in Spain, 1937
Brian Trautman
Veterans on the March
Eric Sommer
Trumps Attack on Social Spending Escalates Long-term Massive Robbery of American Work
Binoy Kampmark
Twenty-Seven Hours: Donald Trump in Israel
Christian Hillegas
Trump’s Islamophobia: the Persistence of Orientalism in Western Rhetoric and Media
Michael J. Sainato
Russiagate: Clintonites Spread the Weiner Conspiracy
Walter Clemens
What the President Could Learn from Our Shih-Tzu Eddie
May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail