I had the opportunity to sit on a panel today during a drug policy alliance session on the role of the recovery movement in drug policy discussions. While it was obvious that everyone on the panel could generally agree that the current U.S. policy when it comes to drug use, abuse, and addiction is not working and unsustainable, it wasn’t clear that we had a common roadmap of how to get to a better place.
Some of the panel speakers were in recovery and others weren’t and while most were from the U.S. we had a representative of the Scandinavian approach for a nice little “reality check” and a bit more balance than one normally gets on these things. From student representatives of the Columbia University Students for Sensible Drug Policy to the distinguished William Moyers from Hazeldon, our panel certainly didn’t lack in a breadth of experiences. Still, even our eight member-panel couldn’t appease everyone when it came to diversity (we missed the mark on racial representativeness). The discussion was civil, but definitely showed that there are serious differences that need to be bridged if the decriminalization discussion is to ever get serious.
I’m all for collaboration and I definitely think that we need to end up in a place where drug use is no longer criminalized as it currently is. Quadrupling our prison population in a few decades with approximately 20% of inmates incarcerated for drug offenses is stupid, expensive, and does little to stop the problem we’re trying to deal with as evidenced by the relatively stable rate of use, abuse, and addiction in this country.
But how do we move forward? Do we make these drugs legal for everyone to use or place an age limit on it? Do we pretend that there’s no risk that use of legal substances will go up to meet the rates of alcohol and tobacco abuse or do we prepare for the possibility that it might? Do we completely remove legal sanctions from the discussion or do we keep them for a specific subset of hard to reach individuals?
As far as I’m concerned, until these questions are considered and dealt with, there’s not going to be any change. Unfortunately, from my reading of the panel and crowd today, even at a Drug Policy Alliance conference, the responses to each of those questions is likely to bring up a lot of debate. I guess that means our work is not yet done…