A Wiser Drug Policy

The New York City Bar Association's Committee on Drugs and the Law has issued a short report, A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition, Fifteen Years Later (pdf.)

They make several recommendations.

Today the Committee makes a renewed call for a serious discussion of U.S. drug policy through a focus on the medical paradigm and the Controlled Substances Act.

The medical paradigm is one of three for legitimate use of psychoactive substances. The other two are sacramental (think peyote) and recreational. Our federal drug laws are tied to the medical. Among the recommended changes: [More...]

1. Evaluate the Utility of Schedule I

The basic structure of the Controlled Substances Act has the odd effect of placing drug control in a medical paradigm controlled not by medical experts but by law enforcement agents.

Section 812(b)(1)(b) states that a substance may never be used as a medicine if it has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Since the description is passive – “accepted medical use” – the unanswered question is “accepted by whom”? By a policeman or a physician? By a physician or a patient? By a judge or a defendant?

It is because of this fatal ambiguity in language – leaving open a power struggle over who defines what constitutes medicine, or, more broadly, healing—that Congress should reexamine the CSA’s basic definitions and scheduling criteria. The fatal ambiguity is the essence of prohibitionist drug control: the authority of police to second-guess physicians in medical matters, in particular here in determining whether a given substance can have a medical use for a given patient.

Second recommendation: Take marijuana out of Schedule I. Schedule I applies to psychoactive substances with (a) a high potential for abuse, (b) no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and © a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision. Marijuana does not belong in Schedule I.

Remaining recommendations:

  • 3. Re-evaluate Scheduling Criteria and Regulatory Agency
  • 4. Abolish Bureaucratic Distinctions Between Substances


The results of failed U.S. drug policies are all around us, from international drug cartels and crises to overburdened prison systems to broken families. Drug control policy consists of laws, the root of which are criminal laws limiting the use of psychoactive substances based on conclusions about their medical utility.

It is incumbent upon the legal profession, the medical profession, citizens and their representatives, without further delay, to begin an earnest and sustained dialogue about our drug control laws and the assumptions upon which they rest.

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    Clear and concise report.... (none / 0) (#1)
    by kdog on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 07:19:10 PM EST
    especially liked the critique of Sch. I, it really is mind-boggling, all prejudices aside.

    Sadly though, Congress is not concerned with evidence, interests are of concern.  Any such plea would lead to a joke such as..."I don't know what this says about the NYC Bar, but we're not going to reclassify marijuana."

    The Controlled Substances Act (none / 0) (#2)
    by Che's Lounge on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 08:45:47 PM EST
    Not only do I work with many prescription drugs, I also teach pharmacology at a local community college. Tommorrow's lecture is on psychotropic meds and substance abuse. It's always a lively lecture.

    But they don't wanna talk (none / 0) (#3)
    by SeeEmDee on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:31:50 PM EST
    They wanna bust heads.

    When a huge bureaucratic edifice has been constructed around what is essentially misinformation - if not outright lies - and that bureaucratic edifice has cemented itself so solidly that it can effectively deflect criticism, by repeating that misinformation using the cachet of government as a shield of credibility, the fight is all uphill for the reformers.

    They don't have the near-bottomless financial resources that the prohibitionists possess...and all too often their motivations for reform are questioned as being mere self-indulgence ("You just want to change the laws so you can smoke pot!")

    But now, the economic situation is worsening daily. Every dollar not spent on social safety net programs is a dollar not spent on people who desperately need that money. Money that's being wasted in the DrugWar.

    Soon, the rising number of the calls for a dialog on the sensibility of maintaining this (at least) 40 Billion dollars a year gobbling monster will become so loud, they will drown out the objections of the drug prohibitionists, who have until now hogged the public policy bullhorn.

    Sadly, it will be economics, not the pricking of the public conscience, that will result in the DrugWar's demise. Just like it was, last time we tried a substance prohibition.

    inhalation makes you high (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 10:37:10 PM EST
    People who take oxycontin or ritalin for medicinal purposes take it as a pill.  People who get high need quick delivery and thus crush and shoot oxycontin IV and crush/snort ritalin.  If this were about medicinal cannibinoids then it would be about pills.