Thursday, December 02, 2010

Strategies to end the War on Drugs

An interesting post on the ACDA's Drugtalk email list broached questions about the best strategy to change public perceptions about drugs, and eventually to move beyond prohibition:

I think it’s time we admitted that using reasoning from facts is not a very good advocacy tool. So how should we advocate for better drug policy?

I put the question to a panel at a public screening of films organised by Harm Reduction Victoria. The best answer… said we need to focus on people’s compassion – illustrate the harm of current policies with stories to highlight the personal side.

That sounds like a good overarching strategy – what do people think?

I agree that the compassion approach has its place, but it will fall on many deaf ears while a number of false beliefs spread by prohibitionists remain current.

Uninformed people continue to believe  that:
  • drug dealing = murder
  • there is no safe level of use of illicit drugs
  • today's cannabis is a different and more dangerous substance than the low potency weed baby boomers smoked in the 1970s
  • regulated legal supply would lead to an explosion of drug use
  • prohibition reduces drug use and reduces harms
  • drug users commit serious crime to a greater degree than straight people.
It's all very well inviting compassion but that is easily trumped by thoughts such as "but it's for their own good" or “they should have thought of that before they committed the crime".

I like the LEAP billboard that said something like "Drugs are harmful but the War on Drugs is worse"

While I disagree with the unqualified  "drugs are harmful" statement on its own -- clearly many accepted legal activities are more risky -- it harnesses a popular mindset so the main message can penetrate.

As for getting a more truthful multipronged message out (including a realistic assessment of the harms of drugs, as per David Nutt's recent work), I know how to do it but it would be a fulltime job. Budget: around $150,000 a year, maybe $200,000, with the possibility of becoming self-funding over time.

"Using reasoning from facts" is the best policy, but the message has to be polished, sloganised and constantly promoted both directly and through the press -- a 'War on Spin".

I'm looking for another job at the moment. Any rich benefactors out there?

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