War on Drugs

For last week’s grand rounds, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance spoke about the public health implications of the war on drugs in the United States. He argued that drug use should be treated in the medical system, not the criminal justice system.

He makes a compelling case that punitive drug laws lack any rational basis and serve only to incarcerate minorities for minor offenses. Using the metaphor of the automobile, he believes that drug use will not go away soon, but we have an obligation to minimize the negative impacts through enlightened public policy and medical intervention.

I am sympathetic to his claim that marijuana and heroin should be legally available like alcohol and tobacco. What I’m not too sure about is what limits to place on legal drugs. Is there a minimum age at which citizens can use cocaine? Should a person be allowed to possess hundreds of pounds of marijuana? Just as there is no scientific basis for banning drugs, nor is there sound evidence for the consequences of deregulation.

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