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Fighting the Bad Fight

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We’ve all got to just face facts: we have lost the drug war. In a lengthy article in Rolling Stone, Ben Wallace-Wells tells us why. In short, after Escobar was killed, the US took its eyes off the ball, Clinton kicked out his academic and liberal “drug czar” and replaced him with a “tough” military man, and Bush ruined a good policy proposal with his swagger. And, well, here we are. A choice quote from the Rolling Stone article:

The real radicals of the War on Drugs are not the legalization
advocates, earnestly preaching from the fringes, but the bureaucrats
-the cops and judges and federal agents who are forced into a growing
acceptance that rendering a popular commodity illegal, and punishing
those who sell it and use it, has simply overwhelmed the capacity of
government.

So given what we know, why is it that we are only inching — if that — toward implementing a more sensible drug policy? Yglesias and Brad Plumer are optimistic that change is on the way, modeled after successful pilot programs in several American cities. I’m not sure I’d be as hopeful as they are. Yglesias thinks that implementing drug policies that actually work (for once) might be politically popular. There’s definitely some truth to that, but a legislator (or executive) would have to get past all the “tough on crime” posturing to even get there.

If Hillary Clinton is any indication, the smart politicians — or at least the ones with smart people advising them — aren’t taking Matt’s advice just yet. Clinton said yesterday that she is against making the reductions in crack sentences retroactive. Admittedly this is not the same as saying she’s against some time-proven effective policing technique. But still. The five other Dems who appeared at the same forum in Iowa all favor retroactivity. Hillary talked a big game about getting rid of the crack-cocaine disparities in an earlier debate, but now she doesn’t think the disparity reduction is important enough to warrant retroactive application, even though thousands sit in prison serving what even she has acknowledged are unduly long sentences.

So we’re in dire need of new policy. And though there are some beacons of common sense in cities around the country, I’m not yet convinced that real change is ahead.

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