Last week in TIME Magazine, Maia Szalavitz wrote about Glenn Greenwald’s report on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal. In the article, she quotes one person skeptical of whether that success can be brought here to the states:
“I think we can learn that we should stop being reflexively opposed when someone else does [decriminalize] and should take seriously the possibility that anti-user enforcement isn’t having much influence on our drug consumption,” says Mark Kleiman, author of the forthcoming When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment and director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA. Kleiman does not consider Portugal a realistic model for the U.S., however, because of differences in size and culture between the two countries.
Mark Kleinman emailed me once about something I wrote and had a major outburst, expressing all sorts of hostility – I’m not saying that motivated him to dismiss the relevance of Portugal, but I am going tow rite and demand specifics.
I find it so shallow and vapid when people say: “We can’t look to what happened in that country because there are cultural differences and size differences” without being specific — why would drug decriminalization work with a population of 10 million people but not 300 million? What, specifically, are the meaningful “cultural differences” between Portugal and the U.S. that allows decriminalization to work in the former but not the latter?
In fairness to Kleiman, he was quoted in that article and thus not necessarily able to control what was conveyed, but I am going to demand some specifics from him.
Mark, you’ve claimed a few times that European and Canadian successes at various forms of drug “reform” can’t be used as examples for the US, because social conditions are different here. (If I’ve mischaracterized you here, please correct me.)
I’d like to know just what social features of Europe and Canada you believe to be responsible for the success of these programs there, and how you would expect similar programs to fail in the US due to different conditions here.
Kleiman responded with a list of 14 items (his comments don’t have numbers or links, but it was posted at June 21, 2006 04:29 AM, about 1/2 way down the thread). Later on the thread, I picked apart a few of the items. Looking back at the list again and using Portugal as a comparison point, it’s even easier to see that a number of the items are irrelevant (1, 4) or untrue – either outright or as a difference (2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). But what’s even more amusing about that list is that almost all of the reasons that he gives (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14) are things that are either caused – or greatly exacerbated – by drug prohibition itself. That’s like saying “oh my, our eagerness to wage war and torture people has made the rest of the world really mad at us. I guess we have no choice now but to keep waging more wars and torturing people”. Or to borrow a modern overused office expression – “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.
Of course, when Kleiman wrote that comment, he was addressing cases like Zurich, Amsterdam, and Vancouver, which may have fit his list a little better, but now that he’s thrown out the same exact argument to Greenwald because “Portugal is smaller than the U.S.” and has vague “cultural differences,” it certainly seems like this is a case where the conclusion stays the same while the justifications keep changing.
I’m not going to jump to any conclusions here about Kleiman’s motivations. A lot of people in the drug law reform community scratch their heads as to why Kleiman sometimes makes very eloquent analyses on the failures of drug policy, but then will turn around and lash out at people who simply follow that path to its logical conclusions. Either way, I’m looking forward to Kleiman’s response to Greenwald, but not holding my breath.