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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
Our nation employs a variety of means to reduce the consumption of illegal drugs and mitigate their adverse consequences. Choosing the right mix of instruments presents a complex policy decision; there are many different lines of attack. To manage this complexity, policy makers and the public have often adopted simple dichotomies, contrasting law enforcement approaches with medical approaches and supply-reduction approaches with demand-reduction approaches. Everyone seems to agree that the nation ought to use a portfolio of instruments that appropriately balances these broad categories, yet views on how close the nation now is to the optimal balance differ a great deal.
The sharp disagreements about drug control policy that persist in U.S. society have both normative and empirical components. On the normative side, people in America vary in their moral judgment of drug use and in their concern with the collateral consequences of drug control activities. On the empirical side, people vary in their assessment of the effectiveness of the drug abuse prevention, drug treatment, domestic law enforcement, and foreign interdiction activities that have formed the elements of U.S. drug control policy. The continuing debate about drug control policy manifests itself in many ways, among which is an annual battle within the federal government on the allocation of funding across different instruments.
Data and research cannot resolve disagreements about the morality of drug use, but they may be able to narrow the divergence of views on the effectiveness of drug control policy today and contribute to the forma-