RAND: grasping for relevancy

In 2005, RAND published How Goes the “War on Drugs”? An Assessment of U.S. Drug Problems and Policy by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Peter H. Reuter, Martin Y. Iguchi, James Chiesa.

Its claim:

Presents a concise, accessible, objective view of where the United States has been, now stands, and is going in the future in its long “war on drugs.” The authors assess the success of drug policies to date and review possible reasons why they have not been more successful. They consider the drug war’s “collateral damage” and attempt to understand why alternative policies have not been tried. They also lay out some possible futures for drug problems and policy in the United States. The authors recommend that a mix of three drug control strategies-enforcement, treatment, and prevention-be timed to a drug’s “epidemic cycle.” …

Despite this claim to be analyzing, looking to the future, and making recommendations, they refused to even consider one of the most important policy options that existed:

“Nor do we explore the merits and demerits of legalizing drugs, even though legalization is perhaps the most prominent and hotly debated topic in drug policy. Our analysis takes current policy as its starting point, and the idea of repealing the nation’s drug laws has no serious support within either the Democratic or Republican party. Moreover, because legalization is untested, any prediction of its effects would be highly speculative.

That has been the state of drug policy analysis in this country for far too long. It’s essentially ‘We don’t know how it’ll work, and partly because we’ve been unwilling to discuss it, there hasn’t been enough political interest, so even though it might be the best policy, we won’t consider it.’ That’s political lackeyism, not policy analysis and guidance. And it’s certainly not leadership.

8 years later, now that Gallup has shown 58% national approval for legalizing marijuana, RAND is promoting its new page: Hot Topic: Marijuana Legalization, featuring articles from the past 20 years, under that new heading.

Isn’t it nice that they’re willing to talk about the “L” word?

Of course, back in 2005, they were perfectly willing to make recommendations regarding enforcement, treatment, and prevention, but today, they’re not willing to do so regarding legalization.

We do not have an official policy position on marijuana reform and more generally RAND does not advocate for or against legislation at any level of government.


Of course, that’s not really true, either. While RAND as an organization may not have explicitly given a policy position, they’ve continually produced reports that seemed designed (and sometimes even timed) to be usable by those opposing legalization referenda (without much countering when the data is misused).

And they haven’t been able to keep a leash on their rabid drug war supporter Rosalie Pacula (co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center) who has often appeared in the media bluntly in opposition to legalization.

We welcome RAND to the dialog. Now we encourage them to join the 21st Century.

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