Pubdate: Wed, 30 Dec 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Danielle Allen
Note: The writer is a political theorist at Harvard University and a 
contributing columnist for The Post.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In January 1964, 
the Beatles first broke onto the Billboard chart with "I Want to Hold 
Your Hand"; by June, Ringo Starr had collapsed from tonsillitis and 
pharyngitis. In January, the surgeon general announced that 
scientists had found conclusive evidence linking smoking to cancer 
and thus launched our highly successful 50-year public-health fight 
against tobacco. In August, the North Vietnamese fired on a U.S. 
naval ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin 
Resolution and the public phase of the Vietnam War. Alongside an 
accelerating deployment of conventional troops would come their 
widespread use of marijuana and heroin.

By 1971, cigarette ads had been banned from radio and television, the 
surgeon general had called for regulation of tobacco, and cigarette 
smoking had begun its long decline. The impact of drug use among 
troops and returning veterans provoked President Richard M. Nixon to 
declare a war on drugs.

This was followed, of course, by the 1973 passage of the Rockefeller 
Drug Laws in New York. These set the model for criminalization and 
increasing penalties for the country as a whole, especially regarding drugs.

In the contrast between what has happened since 1964 with tobacco, on 
the one hand, and marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other banned 
substances, on the other, we have an instructive lesson in the 
comparative effects of choosing a public-health or a criminalization 
paradigm for dealing with addictive substances.

The approach to tobacco has worked. Between 1964 and 2014, smoking 
rates declined by half; between 1996 and 2013, the number of 
eighth-graders who had smoked within the past 30 days fell from 21 
percent to 4.5 percent. The progress against smoking has been steady 
and impressive.

It's an altogether different tale with banned substances. While 
levels of illegal drug use have risen and fallen since 1971, current 
levels are equivalent to those we had in the mid-1970s. According to 
the Monitoring the Future report, daily use of marijuana by 
12th-graders was at 6 percent in 1975; in2014, it was 5.8 percent. 
The picture with heroin has shown similar stability. In 1975, 1 
percent of 12th-graders had used heroin within the year. In 2000 that 
figure was 1.5 percent. In 2014 it was down to 0.6 percent, but it 
may be climbing again.

And for every year of the past decade, Americans have spent $100 
billion to buy banned substances.

There is an even starker contrast in how perceptions of the risks of 
smoking and of illegal drugs have changed. In 1975, 51.3 percent of 
12th-graders thought that smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a 
day posed great risk; by 1991 that number was 69.4 percent, by 2014 
it was 78 percent. With illegal drugs, arrows move the opposite 
direction or stay essentially flat. In 1975, 43.3 percent of 
12th-graders thought smoking marijuana regularly involved great risk; 
by 2014, that number had declined to 36.1 percent. In 1975, 60.1 
percent of 12th-graders thought trying heroin once or twice posed 
great risk; in 2014, 62.8 percent did.

In other words, for all the money spent and lives ruined through 
violence and criminalization, we have made zero headway against illegal drugs.

So what did we do about smoking? Tobacco control has focused on 
prevention and cessation.

Beginning in 1964, public-health campaigns worked toward the 
"denormalization" of smoking, in the words of the 2014 Report of the 
Surgeon General, "The Health Consequences of Smoking - 50 Years of 
Progress." Although 800 private lawsuits were brought against tobacco 
companies without success between 1950 and 1984, in 1977 Berkeley, 
Calif., banned smoking in public places, and by the end of 1985, 89 
cities and counties had followed suit. In 1986, Congress doubled the 
excise tax on a pack of cigarettes, and by 1988, about 400 
municipalities had passed ordinances restricting public smoking. The 
tobacco industry began to lose lawsuits in 1995, and in 1998, the 
attorneys general of 46 states entered into the Tobacco Master 
Settlement Agreement with the largest tobacco companies in the 
country. By 2014, states had received $99.5 billion in payments from 
those companies, and some of these resources had funded the highly 
effective American Legacy Foundation, now known as the Truth 
Initiative, which maintains ongoing antismoking campaigns directed to 
youth and young adults. In addition, the requirement to pay out these 
resources forced tobacco companies to raise prices, leading to 
additional reductions in youth smoking.

What we have done with marijuana and the other illegal drugs is, of 
course, invest heavily in criminal justice.

According to a 2011 Justice Department report, addressing illegal 
drugs cost the nation $193 billion in 2007. The crime-related portion 
was $113 billion. This expenditure can lead to high-profile drug 
busts, as with the splashy recent raid on the Tijuana-San Diego 
drug-running train tunnel. But this criminalization means a massive 
overload on the judicial system. According to federal judicial 
caseload statistics, in U.S. district courts, in 2013, 32 percent of 
all defendant filings were for drug-related cases, making this the 
biggest category of filings.

We ought to admit that we got tobacco right but drugs wrong.

As with tobacco, there are real public health risks associated with 
drugs, not only heroin and opiates but even marijuana. We lack good 
research on the long-term effects of marijuana use, but some are 
clear. According to the Monitoring the Future report, "Frequent 
marijuana use predicts a lower likelihood of post-secondary 
educational attainment." Early marijuana use seems to increase the 
risk of schizophrenia for those who are at risk for that disease for 
genetic reasons, and experts estimate that roughly 9 percent of 
marijuana users are likely to become addicted to it.

Rather than using the FBI to bust up fancy tunnel networks, we should 
legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs, and then tax and 
sue drug producers to generate revenue to support public health 
campaigns against their products, agencies to regulate them and 
treatment for those who suffer from addiction. Legalizing and 
decriminalizing drugs doesn't mean giving up on the fight against 
them, and we have the lesson about what works right in front of our eyes.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom