Is Ending The War
On Drugs A Panacea?
Professor And Author W.A. Bogart Discusses His New Book, Off The Street: Legalizing Drugs, Which Calls For A Philosophical Approach To The Issues Of Use And Abuse
W.A. Bogart, professor, University of Windsor. Courtesy Dundurn Press.
By Karen Weil and John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Feb. 14, 2017 — The War On Drugs has been raging in the United States for nearly a century, and over that time period, the U.S. government has perpetuated the battle to its partner nations around the world.
But what has The War On Drugs really accomplished?
Drug use has not been reduced despite massive budgets and the militarization of police forces around the world and especially in border areas. And, while spending on interdiction and other law enforcement tactics have gone up, illicit drug use in the United States has, in fact, been increasing.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older — 9.4 percent of the population — had used an illicit drug in the past month. In 2002, it was only 8.3 percent.
Some espouse even greater law enforcement approaches. Others propose that the only way to reduce drug use or to limit its devastating impacts on the world, is to legalize it.
In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy—which included amongst its ranks former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the prime minister of Greece, and former high ranking federal officials George P. Shultz and Paul Volcker—recommended legalization as the best course forward.
A big reason is that the commission and others have taken this position is because it spends a lot of cash without getting the results.
A recent book, Off The Street: Legalizing Drugs by W.A. Bogart, a professor at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, gets into the heart of the matter and then some. Bogart says the very nature of making something illegal is counterproductive to use reduction.
He pointed to success in driving down tobacco use through public health campaigns as one example of why making substances people want to ingest illegal is doomed to failure. Bogart’s previous work on eating habits and obesity led him to take the concept even further to drug use.
He gratefully agreed to sit down with us to talk about his book, The War On Drugs and possible solutions. Included below are some snippets from our podcast. (link here)
MT: Your last book addressed the psychological impacts on food consumption. Why did you decide to tackle illicit drug use?
BOGART: I’ve long been interested in looking at the affect law has on underlying social and economic issues...it became clear to me that non-medical use of drugs are an outlier. Other uses of drugs whether it is gambling, tobacco use or another, is 'permit but discourage.'
MT: You make it clear early on in the book that you are not a drug user besides a glass of Shiraz, some champagne or a gin martini. Why was it important to state that?
BOGART: When you write a book about consumption, it is very interesting how people speculate how much one is personally invested in the issues. In terms of my book before, regulating obesity, I had a number of incidents over the phone where the journalists would gradually move toward whether i was obese or not. I came to see people were curious to the extent there was personal investment in the topic...I also came to think that it was important that those who are persuaded for the case of moving towards legalization need to stand up for those who are using.
MT: Talk about the history of criminalization of drug prohibition.
BOGART: Up until the start of the 20th century, nonmedical use of drugs was something the law was ambivalent to. People used laudanum and opium as a daily pickup...Freud had a cocaine problem. Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a cocaine high. Drugs were widely available and widely used. Sure, people were concerned when people developed problems, but there was not the idea that prohibition was the answer....By the 1920s, the idea of prohibition of drugs and alcohol were enacted. The lessons of the cost of prohibition in regards with alcohol, though, was learned and countries moved over to the regulatory side, but that did not happen with drugs.
MT: You termed the collapsing of criminalization as a hollowing out, please explain.
BOGART: Let’s start by answering what The War On Drugs has brought about. Its simple purpose was to end the use of drugs. We know in the 20, 30 or 40 years that it has been going on that suppression is not successful and some rates have even increased. The War, though, has increased collateral costs. We put people in jail because they use a substance and we have substantial resources being used to fight that war when those resources can be used by others. Governments have been deprived revenue sources from and industry—and it is an industry. Children have also been hurt. What I mean by a hollowing out is that these changes will not suddenly occur. Many societies are trying to do something about these collateral costs and to do something, they have to move away from criminalization...Part of that hollowing out is the changing perceptions on marijuana.
MT: How does prescription drug abuse factor in the legalization equation?
BOGART: We have a horrible opioid crisis in Canada as well. It is a tragedy. But the way we are addressing it Canada actually points the way to legalization. I know of no responsible voice in Canada that says the solution is to round up these people and put them in jail. Many of them are committing a legal offense....We think it is better to save lives then throw them in jail.
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