Harsh laws for selling or possessing of drugs are a public-policy disaster. Ernest Drucker, an epidemiologist, uses the tools of his trade to examine the laws and their consequences. He writes that America is suffering “a plague of prisons”, and the Rockefeller laws in New York were the outbreak of that plague. None of Mr Drucker’s statistics is new, but they bear repeating because they are unjust, unintended and easily remedied. Treating drug addiction as a public-health problem (emphasising treatment and harm-reduction) rather than a crime would go a long way towards making America’s poor and minority communities stabler and better. It would also save taxpayers money. All that is lacking is political will.
In an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. They probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations.