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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
Access to Data
The agencies charged with responsibility for establishing the data systems recommended in Chapter 3—the National Institute of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics—and for building the research infrastructure outlined above— the National Institute of Justice and the National Science Foundation— will be faced with a common challenge: removing the legal impediments to collecting and using data on illicit activities. Talented and ambitious researchers will not be willing to enlist in the new research initiative envisioned by the committee unless they are assured reasonable access to pertinent data. The statutory authority appears to be in place for the Department of Justice to grant the necessary immunity for collecting data. It should develop and promulgate clear and specific guidelines or instructions regarding the conditions for securing immunity for data collection under existing law and, if the existing authority is insufficient, should seek the necessary authority from Congress.
The paucity of data also bears on funding strategies for research. The funding agencies should be prepared to fund grants for a sufficient period to enable researchers to carry out primary data acquisition, notably surveys. This is essential in an area such as research on illegal drug markets, in which high-quality datasets are not already available. And we point out again that, when large and influential datasets such as Monitoring the Future have been developed with public funds, there is no excuse for allowing data-collecting organizations to curtail access to these data by other investigators. All funding agencies should ensure public access to nonidentified data. The responsible government agencies should take maximum advantage of developing communications technologies to maximize researcher access to available data.
In its final report in 1973, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse applauded a 400 percent increase in the federal investment in research from 1969–1973, urged intensification of the investment in research, and emphasized the importance of free scientific inquiry in what had been a highly politicized domain (NCMA, 1973:368–370):
This commitment to research…reflects a significant change in official policy. For many years, research into the effects of prohibited drugs and into the behavior of users was viewed as an attempt to question and subvert government policy. In addition, the aura of criminality surrounding drug-using behavior and the overly rigid protocol requirements often made this area unattractive to researchers. When…re-