Toward a Sane National Drug Policy

When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Toward a Sane National Drug Policy is one of my sources.

The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.

If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.


Rolling Stone tackles the drug issue with an article by Ethan Nadelmann and Jann S. Wenner in Rolling Stone, May 5, 1994.

p. 24

“There are now more than 330,000 Americans behind bars for violating the drug laws. We are spending over $20 billion per year on criminal-justice approaches, but illegal drugs are available in greater supply and purity than ever before.”

“We have ignored the clear lessons of history. Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, financed the rise of organized crime and failed miserably as social policy. Likewise, the war on drugs ahs created new, well-financed and violent criminal conspiracies and failed to achieve any of its goals.”

“In 1992, according to the FBI, 535,000 people were arrested for possession, sale or manufacture of marijuana. In six cases, life sentences were imposed.”

“For at least a generation, law-enforcement officials have recited the claim that they seize “only 10 percent” of drug shipments into the United States. The fact is, despite this dismal rate, they haven’t the slightest idea what percentage they’re seizing.

‘The drug war has been most efficient at filling up the country’s prisons and jails: In all, there are 440,000 prisoners in local jails, 840,000 in state prisons and another 87,000 in federal prisons. (Add to that 2.7 million people on probation and more than 500,000 on parole.) This represents by far the highest proportion of the American population incarcerated in our history, as well as the highest proportion incarcerated in any country in the world.

‘Much of the increase in prison population can be explained entirely in terms of the war on drugs. More than 60 percent of federal prison inmates are incarcerated for violations of federal drug laws. One in five are first-time petty offenders, in many cases naive young people who ran into sophisticated entrapment procedures. According to a Justice Department study ordered by Janet Reno, 16,316 federal prisoners who have no previous incarcerations, crimes or high-level drug activity on their records are serving an average of six-year sentences for drugs. Two out of three are in prison because of mandatory sentencing laws. More than half of new incarcerations in New Jersey state prisons in 1990 were for drug-law violations, 46.7 percent in New York, 32 percent in Pennsylvania, and 53 percent in Washington, D.C. Although no one has actually added up the numbers, it is safe to estimate that one-third of a million people are now behind bars for violating drug laws and two to three times that many are on probation or parole for the same reason.

p. 25

“California has saved more than $1 billion in criminal-justice costs by decriminalizing pot.”

“What about cocaine? It’s helpful to remember that the crack epidemic, a devastating plague, but one that is passing, was not prevented by strict prohibition. Indeed, the drug laws may well have created crack, just as Prohibition produced 190-proof bathtub gin. And just as the repeal of Prohibition didn’t legalize moonshine, so the repeal of drug laws doesn’t have to mean legalizing crack. The world is full of drugs that are less dangerous and more attractive than crack. We can begin by testing low-potency cocaine products—coca-based chewing gum or lozenges, for example, or products like Mariani’s wine and the Coca-Cola of the late 19th century—which by all accounts were as safe as beer and probably not much worse than coffee. If some people want to distill those products down to something more potent, let them. But most people won’t want to buy it, just as few Americans wanted to keep buying 190-proof alcohol once beer, wine and liquor became legally available.”

“A drug policy with these ingredients [small amounts of any drug for personal use is legal, legal means by which adults can obtain drugs of certified quality, purity, and quantity; and citizens empowered in making their own decisions about drugs] would decimate the black market for drugs and take out of the hands of drug lords the $50 billion to $60 billion in profits they earn each year. The nation would gain billions of dollars in law-enforcement savings and tax revenues, which could ben be used to treat America’s most serious problem: the miserable life prospects of millions of poor, undereducated Americans growing up in decaying, crime-ridden cities.”