I finished Richard Reeves' President Nixon: Alone in the White House. The book has an excellent bibliographic essay at the end, written by Jonathan Cassidy, who assisted Reeves in his research. Although there are a variety of gems in that essay, I would like to highlight something that Cassidy says on page 669, as Cassidy comments on a book about President Richard Nixon's drug policy:
"Michael Massing's The Fix
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998) is an interesting look at
American drug policy under Nixon. On drugs, Nixon wasn't easy to
stereotype. Though he raged about government officials who were
publicly soft on drugs, he drew fine distinctions that were lost on
contemporary demagogues. For example, in one memo he worried that a
tough new law on pushers would be unfairly harsh to those who sold just
to support their habit. Massing's book shows that current policy makers
could learn a lot from Nixon's realpolitik."
I don't know much
about President Nixon's drug policy, but I think that any drug policy
should be compassionate, yet tough. Insofar as Nixon pursued that
approach, I applaud him.
Many people whom I respect argue that the
government should not have a drug policy, and that drugs should be
legalized. I'm hesitant to go that far, for I have problems envisioning
marijuana and cocaine being sold at the local supermarket! But I do
recognize that there have been problems with the war on drugs: it has
cost a lot, plus it has arguably been unfair, in that African-American
drug abuse has been punished more harshly than white drug abuse.
Moreover, there are people who have been stiffly punished for taking a
puff of marijuana, and I have heard and read that this punishment can
have long-standing effects.
I could say that drug policy should
focus on treatment and rehabilitation more than punishment, but that's
easier said than done. The thing is, people have to want to
recover before they recover. I have heard in recovery groups that you
can't make people recover. But maybe it wouldn't do addicts harm at
least to be exposed to a recovery program: to hear the view that
recovery is positive, to be given a chance to share their problems with
someone who is understanding, to listen to the stories of people who are
trying to recover. Hopefully, something positive would sink in.
do we want to take punishment off of the table? I am reluctant to
propose this, since drug policy may need a carrot and a stick. I
wonder, however, how strict a drug policy should be, and I question the
value of mandatory minimums.