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.
Plus, 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.