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New Direction for Drug Fight

NANCY REAGAN famously urged Americans to “Just Say No” to drugs. Today, analysts at the RAND Corporation are saying “Just Say No” to scattershot national drug strategies, and a new paper explains their thinking.

Careful to tiptoe around the most polemicized aspects of the national drug debate, the RAND analysts propose new directions for drug policy that “are not likely to draw strong value-oriented objections and are thus particularly amenable to serving as a starting point for consensus in this fractious domain.”

The analysts further posit a range of measures that, while perhaps more objectionable to advocates on certain sides of the debate, seem to them “to be pragmatically promising enough to warrant greater consideration than they have so far received.”

For example, one policy pursued by the U.S. government—crop eradication and substitution outside of U.S. borders—is costly and hasn’t proven effective, so that policy should be eradicated or substituted for, the paper says.

Further, the analysts discourage increased enforcement of laws and prosecution of those committing crimes connected to “established, mass-market” drugs such as cocaine: For established drugs, enforcement is generically subject to diminishing returns. That is, the next million dollars spent on enforcement buys less of a drop in drug consumption than the previous million spent.

On the other hand, treatment is described as a cost-effective way of protecting citizens from drug-related crime. The analysts call for research and development into new treatment methodologies.

But enforcement and treatment can be powerful complements, as when drug courts threaten users with jail time if they drop out of treatment programs. A strategy called “coerced abstinence” would go a step further, requiring probationers or parolees to pass drug tests or go to jail.

“How the offenders stayed clean would be up to them,” the analysts write in the paper, “but presumably, many would try treatment.”