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:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail