Grounded in Evidence or a Puritanical Legacy: A Critique of Twenty-First-Century US Drug Policy

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The federal government of the USA asserts that its national drug policy is based on empirical and scientific evidence rather than ideology. However, the recently published ‘War on Drugs’ (2011) report declared that the global war on drugs has failed, producing devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Accordingly, this paper focuses on a number of key positions that are embedded in the US drug policy and seeks to reconcile these with the empirical evidence that exists; such as it is. In the absence of supporting empirical evidence to underpin a policy goal, one must logically consider that there are alternative, hidden drivers and the authors can detect (at least) three such drivers of US drug policy. The first of these is the influence of religion; US drug policy is influenced by a Puritanical legacy. The second is that of societal views of drugs and drug users per se and how such views invariably associate certain drugs with specific ethnic minority groups. The third is that of maintaining vested (special) interests, for example, the private (for profit) prison system. Current US drug policy is even more puzzling given the growing body of ‘global’ evidence that viable, efficacious, cheaper, more humane, and ultimately, logical evidence-based policy options exist. As a result, the authors add their ‘voices’ to those of others who have advocated a genuinely evidence-based drug policy rather than a social policy influenced by theology, xenophobia and the ongoing profits of certain special interest groups.


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