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Cal Professor says drug war is going nowhere

Bay City News Service
Monday November 26, 2001

A psychologist from the University of California at Berkeley suggests that the best methods for waging the war against drugs are often overlooked, caught somewhere in the middle of the rhetoric of legalization and “zero-tolerance’’ plans. 

In “Drug War Heresies,’’ a book released earlier this month, Robert MacCoun, a UC Berkeley professor of public policy and law, and Peter Reuter, who teaches criminology and public affairs at the University of Maryland at College Park, say neither zero-tolerance policies nor blanket legalization are answers to reducing drug use and drug-related problems. 

The book, which details a comprehensive study of legalization, offers an objective analysis of the alternative of complete prohibition of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. 

“I don’t think we’ll ever have a drug-free society,’’ MacCoun says. “It’s not a war that you win. It’s a problem that you manage.’’ 

The book is the culmination of 10 years of research, which investigated drug policies both in this country and abroad.  

MacCoun says that at the beginning of their research, he and his partner were “agnostic’’ on the issue and tried to look at both sides, and claim that their goal was to “elevate and inform’’ a debate that is traditionally mired by posturing. 

“In this country, we don’t really have a serious debate,’’ MacCoun says.  

“Politicians act tough out of timidity -- they are afraid to be seen as soft on drugs,’’ he added. “And intellectuals are quick to find fault with the war on drugs, but they haven’t been very serious about thinking through on the alternatives.’’ 

The book agrees that legalization proponents are, for the most part, correct in their claim that making drugs illegal is a major source of the drug-related harms, including crime, violence, and frequent overdoses.