Rethinking the War on Drugs – Getting Beyond Incarceration v. Legalization

The WSJ published a great essay this weekend on outside-the-box thinking in the War on Drugs. The authors start by noting that the national drug problem “is so complex that it has produced not just one clear, simple, wrong solution but two: the “drug war” (prohibition plus massive, undifferentiated enforcement) and proposals for wholesale drug legalization.”

There are two points that cannot be refuted. The first is that the “war on drugs” is not working. Though drug usage has declined, it is still too high. Too many lives are wasted – both through addiction and incarceration. The second point is that legalization will make the drug game less violent (indeed, it would probably eliminate violence), but will also undoubtedly have a terrible impact on society through higher rates of abuse.

Given these facts, what are policy-makers to do? Continue down a path that costs billions every year and leads to incredible rates of recidivism – or move towards legalization? The authors argue there are other options. And I agree. I don’t agree with all their ideas, but do like the following:

  • 24/7 Sobriety – a program in North Dakota where, rather than incarceration, people convicted of certain alcohol offenses are made to show up twice a day every day for BAC tests. “More than 99 percent of the time, they show up as ordered, sober.” This same idea could be applied to drug offenders.
  • HOPE – A judge in Hawaii created a program where, rather than choose between a warning or a long prison sentence for drug probationers, he would meet probation slip-ups with immediate time in jail. The program “reduced drug use by more than 80% and days behind bars by more than 50%, according to the National Institute of Justice. I note that HB 1525, sponsored by Rep. Gary Fuhr, would allow something similar in Missouri.

I’m interested in sponsoring legislation authorizing programs like 24/7 Sobriety in Missouri and I’ll continue to support Rep. Fuhr’s effort to add swift and certain punishments to our probation and parole system.