Pubdate: Sun, 03 Jan 2016
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2016 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Danielle Allen


Contrast what has happened since 1964 with tobacco, on the one hand,
and marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other banned substances, on the

We can compare the effects of choosing a public-health paradigm or a
criminalization paradigm for dealing with addictive substances

The progress against smoking has been steady and impressive, but
ita??s an altogether different tale with banned substances

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In January 1964,
the Beatles first broke onto the Billboard chart with a??I Wantto
Hold Your Hand.a?? 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
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 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 can compare the effects of choosing a
public-health or a criminalization paradigm for dealing with addictive

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.

The illegal drug use tale

Ita??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; in 2014, 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 and, by
2014, 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.

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

Tobacco control has focused on prevention and cessation.

Beginning in 1964, public-health campaigns worked toward the
a??denormalizationa?? of smoking. 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.

A misplaced investment in criminal justice

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 anti-smoking 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. 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

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 doesna??t mean giving up on the fight against
them, and we have the lesson about what works right in front of our

The Washington Post

Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University.
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