Pubdate: Sun, 03 Jan 2016
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 The Age Company Ltd
Author: Danielle Allen
Note: Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University 
and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.


As the Status of Drug Use in Victoria Is Debated, Lessons Can Be 
Learnt From the US.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In January 1964, 
the Beatles first broke onto the US Billboard chart. In January, the 
US surgeon general announced that scientists had found conclusive 
evidence linking smoking to cancer and thus launched a highly 
successful 50-year public-health fight against tobacco. In August, 
the North Vietnamese fired on a US 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 Nixon to 
declare a war on drugs.

This was followed by the 1973 passage of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in 
New York. These set the model for criminalisation 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 criminalisation 
paradigm for dealing with addictive substances.

The approach to tobacco has worked. Between 1964 and 2014 in the US, 
smoking rates declined by half. 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 
(the equivalent of year 12 students in Australia) was at 6 per cent 
in 1975; in 2014, it was 5.8 per cent. The picture with heroin has 
shown similar stability. In 1975, 1 per cent of 12th graders had used 
heroin within the year. In 2000 that figure was 1.5 per cent. In 2014 
it was down to 0.6 per cent, but it may be climbing again.

And for every year of the past decade, Americans have spent $US100 
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 per cent of 
12th graders thought that smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a 
day posed great risk; by 1991 that number was 69.4 per cent, by 2014 
it was 78 per cent. With illegal drugs, arrows move the opposite 
direction or stay essentially flat.

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

So what was done about smoking? Tobacco control has focused on 
prevention and cessation.

 From 1964, public-health campaigns worked toward the 
"denormalisation" 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, 
California, 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 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, 46 states 
entered into the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with the largest 
tobacco companies in America.

By 2014, states had received $US99.5 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 anti-smoking campaigns directed to youth 
and young adults.

What the US has 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 
$US193 billion in 2007. The crime-related portion was $US113 billion. 
This criminalisation means a massive overload on the judicial system. 
According to federal statistics, 32 per cent of all defendant filings 
in US district courts in 2013 were for drug-related cases, making it 
the biggest category of filings.

America ought to admit that it 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. There is a 
lack of 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 about 9 per cent of 
marijuana users are likely to become addicted to it.

The US should legalise marijuana and decriminalise 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. Legalising and 
decriminalising drugs doesn't mean giving up on the fight against 
them, and the lesson about what works is right in front of our eyes.
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