Between Politics and Reason
The Drug Legalization Debate
Erich Goode State University of New York, Stony Brook
Contemporary Social Issues Series, St. Martin's Press, New York
|Between Politics and Reason|
©1997 by St. Martin's Press
appears in The Schaffer Library
at the request of the author.
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Ideology and Morality
Drug Laws: An Introduction
Definitions: What Is a Drug?
2. Drug Use in America: An Overview
Studying Drug Use
3. Drug Abuse: Definitions, Indicators, and Causes
The Legalistic Definition of Drug Abuse
A Harm-Based Definition of Drug Abuse
Is Dependence Always Abuse?
Conclusions on Abuse
Why Drug Abuse?
4. Prohibition: The Punitive Model
Two Punitive Arguments
Drug Control: The Current System
Summary of the Current System
Are We Becoming Increasingly Punitive on Drug Control?
6. Legalization and Decriminalization: An Overview
Generalism versus Specifism: An Introduction
Four Legalization Proposals: An Introduction
Prescription and Maintenance Models
Why Criminalization Can't Work
7. Business as Usual?
Stamping Out Drugs at Their Source?
Push Down/Pop Up
The Logistics of Eradicating Drugs at Their Source
The Drug Trade as an Employer
Drug Production as a Violent Enterprise
Smuggling: Intercepting Drugs at the Border
Arresting at the Dealer Level
8. Will Drug Use/Abuse Rise under Legalization?
Legalization and Use: Two Issues
Using Drugs, Drug Effects
Frequencies of Use
9. Drugs and Crime
The Drug UseProperty Crime Connection: Three Models
Drugs and Violence: Three Models
The Drugs-Crime Connection Generally
Violence, Dealing, and Organized Crime
10. Alcohol and Tobacco: The Real Dangerous Drugs?
Apples and Oranges
Extent and Frequency of Use
Years of Life Lost
Primary versus Secondary Harm
Controls on Alcohol and Tobacco
As we move toward the close of the twentieth century, we confront
a seemingly endless array of pressing social issues: crime, urban
decay, inequality, ecological threats, rampant consumerism, war,
AIDS, inadequate health care, national and personal debt, and
many more. Although such problems are regularly dealt with in
newspapers, magazines, and trade books and on radio and television,
such popular treatment has severe limitations. By examining these
issues systematically through the lens of sociology, we can gain
greater insight into them and be better able to deal with them.
It is to this end that St. Martin's Press has created this series
on contemporary social issues.
Each book in the series casts a new and distinctive light on a
familiar social issue, while challenging the conventional view,
which may obscure as much as it clarifies. Phenomena that seem
disparate and unrelated are shown to have many commonalities and
to reflect a major, but largely unrecognized, trend within the
larger society. Or a systematic comparative investigation demonstrates
the existence of social causes or consequences that are overlooked
by other types of analysis. In uncovering such realities the books
in this series are much more than intellectual exercises; they
have powerful practical implications for our lives and for the
structure of society.
At another level, this series fills a void in book publishing.
There is certainly no shortage of academic titles, but those books
tend to be introductory texts for undergraduates or advanced monographs
for professional scholars. Missing are broadly accessible, issue-oriented
books appropriate for all students (and for general readers).
The books in this series occupy that niche somewhere between popular
trade books and monographs. Like trade books, they deal with important
and interesting social issues, are well written, and are as jargon
free as possible. However, they are more rigorous than trade books
in meeting academic standards for writing and research. Although
they are not textbooks, they often explore topics covered in basic
textbooks and therefore are easily integrated into the curriculum
of sociology and other disciplines.
Each of the books in the St. Martin's series "Contemporary
Social Issues" is a new and distinctive piece of work. I
believe that students, serious general readers, and professors
will all find the books to be informative, interesting, thought
provoking, and exciting.
First, there were the atrocity tales. Federal agents assault the
San Diego home of Donald Carlson, a 45-year-old executive for
a Fortune 500 computer company, using "flash-bang" grenades
and automatic weapons; Carlson is hit three times and winds up
in a hospital in critical condition. He was not a drug dealer,
of course, but a completely innocent victim. His name was supplied
to the police almost at random by a police informant seeking leniency
for his arrest (Levine, 1996). The name of a parking lot attendant,
Miguel, is given to the Drug Enforcement Administration by Tony,
an often-arrested drug dealer. Together with federal agents, Tony
entraps his friend in a bogus operation that literally involves
the exchange of no drugsindeed, not even any mention of
drugs. The dealer walks away scott-free, with $300,000 for his
troubles, while Miguel is arrested, ultimately managing to plea-bargain
his way down to a four-year prison sentence (Levine, 1996). A
13-member SWAT team breaks down the door of the domicile of a
75year-old retired Methodist minister, Accelyne Williams, who
is chased around the apartment and handcuffed. Rev. Williams suffers
a heart attack and dies. It turns out the police had the wrong
address (Anonymous, 1996). Kemba Smith, a college student, becomes
romantically involved with a drug dealer; she is sucked into some
of his operations. Today, Kemba sits in the Federal Corrections
Institution for Women in Danbury, Conn., serving out a 24-year
sentence; ineligible for parole, she will not breathe the air
of freedom until 2016, five presidential elections from her sentencing
Taken by themselves, these tales are frightening enough. But then
there are the statistics, the overall picture. In 1970, there
were roughly 200,000 prisoners behind bars in the United States;
today, there are over a million, with another half a million in
local and county jails. In 1950, 30 percent of all inmates in
the United States were Black; in 1970, it was 40 percent. Today,
it is a majority, over 50 percent, and growing. Between 1980 and
the mid-199Os, the number of new commitments per year to
state prisons on drug violations jumped well over 10 timesover
1,000 percentfrom 8,800 to more than 100,000. In contrast,
the increase for violent offenses during that period was only
a shade over 50 percent. Today, there are more inmates incarcerated
in state prisons for drug violations than for violent offenses.
In 1980, drug violators made up 25 percent of all federal prisons;
today, it is a clear majority, over 60 percent. A federally mandated
sentence for the possession of 500 grams of powdered cocaine
is five years imprisonment; possessing only five grams
of crack draws the same five-year sentence. In federal court,
while only 27 percent of powdered cocaine defendants are Black,
88 percent of crack cocaine defendants are African-American (Lindesmith
Since 1981, with the administration of President Ronald Reagan,
the United States has been waging a "War on Drugs."
In many ways, this war has been harmful. One of its by-products
has been the call for an end to the war. The issue has
been hotly debated for more than a decade and a half, since this
war was launched. Emphatic, righteous voices have chimed in on
both sides. Today, what was regarded as an almost "unspeakable"
proposal, the legalization of the currently illegal drugs, is
seriously advanced in major newspapers and magazines across the
country by serious, credible figures. Are we now facing a "new
crisis of legitimacy" in the criminal justice system, brought
on by a growing public awareness of penal institutions that are
almost literally bursting at the seams with new prisoners and
of a criminal justice system that administers grotesquely racially
biased sentences (Duster, 1995)? Do these new and troubling developments
cry out for drug legalization? Many observers believe so.
This small book will attempt to answer such questions. In investigating
the drug legalization issue, I remain convinced of several basic
propositions. For starters, yes, the current war on drugs has
been harmful; yes, changes need to be made. To determine a wise
and sane drug policy, we need relevant evidence, facts, information.
But ultimately, our decision as to what works best will be based
mainly on ideological, not factual, issues. Facts are relevant
here; they certainly rule out manifestly loony proposals. But
at bottom, we'll choose one over another because it is more likely
to yield the results we like. Even if we all were to agree on
what the facts are, we won't agree on weighing certain values
over others. Thus, investigating questions of value and ideology
are central in any consideration of drug legalization.
In the end, I am forced to remain a staunch proponent of a harm
reduction policy. While the current system desperately needs
fixing, I strongly believe that outright legalization would be
a catastrophe. (In any case, there is quite literally no chance
of implementing such a proposal any time soon; at the present
time, discussing it remains little more than an interesting intellectual
exercise.) Moreover, as I explain, different observers mean
very different things when they use the term "legalization."
Some imagine that the Netherlands, or the United Kingdom (or Canada,
I have been told, or Sweden!), pursues a policy of legalization.
Far from it! Hence, I've found it necessary to spell out just
what different observers mean when they so glibly discuss
what they imagine to be "legalization." I heartily endorse
some of their proposals; some others would produce results that
even those who propose them would have to agree are worse than
our current conditions. Still, let's be clear on this: Many observers
on both sides of the debate use the issue of harm versus harm
reduction as window dressing. For them, the main issue is the
triumph of one ideology or worldview over another. The victims
be damned! In the face of such arguments, I cannot help but be
a staunch pragmatist and utilitarian.
Let us explore, then, you and I, the world of drugs and drug use,
drug abuse and drug control, drug criminalization and drug legalization,
to determine what we should do about these pressing, disturbing
issues. The answers are far from obvious, despite what many combatants
in this debate claim; all too often, they attribute their opponents'
views to stupidity or villainy. In my view, the issues are complex
and are filled with painful dilemmas. We are inevitably forced
to accept the least bad of an array of very bad options, a single
mix of results that range from poisonous to somewhat less poisonous.
And those of us who do nothing will be forced, willy-nilly, to
take a stand one way or another, since, if we do nothing, someone
else will do it for us. We need to be armed with facts, a clarity
of vision, a logical frame of mind, courage, and an awareness
of how these issues fit in with the big picture. I hope that this
book provides some of these things, and enables the reader to
draw his or her own conclusions concerning some of the more urgent
questions of our day.
I have adapted a very few sentences, paragraphs, and pages from
the fourth edition of my book Drugs in American Society (New
York: McGraw-Hill, 1993); they are sprinkled throughout this volume.
Permission to use this material is gratefully acknowledged. I
would like to thank a number of friends and colleagues who have
helped me in one way or another in writing this book: Ethan Nadelmann,
Barbara Weinstein, Josephine Cannizzo, William J. Goode, and Nachman
Ben-Yehuda. The idea for the book was more George Ritzer's than
my own. Scholars and researchers too numerous to mention shared
necessary information with me. My students asked many questions
that clarified my thinking about key issues. Perhaps most of all,
I'm grateful to work in an area that offers interesting issues,
lively debates, and intelligent researchers and authors. I would
also like to thank the reviewers who offered constructive suggestions
for the final draft of the manuscript: John F. Galliher, University
of Missouri, Columbia; Marvin Krohn, State University of New York,
Albany; and Peter J. Venturelli, Valparaiso University.
About the Author
Erich Goode is professor of sociology at the State University
of New York at Stony Brook. He is the author, coauthor, editor,
and coeditor of a number of books on drug use and deviance, including
The Marijuana Smokers (Basic Books, 1970); Drugs in
American Society, 4th edition (McGraw-Hill, 1993); Deviant
Behavior, 5th edition (Prentice-Hall, 1997); and, with Nachman
Ben-Yehuda, Moral Panics (Blackwell, 1994).