In 1994, the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Drugs and the Law concluded that the societal costs of drug prohibition are too high to justify it as a policy and called for a national dialogue on alternatives. Fifteen years later, that dialogue has not occurred, we are no closer to a drug-free society, and the problems associated with the illegal drug trade are worse than ever.
The starting point for a critical inquiry into U.S. drug control policy is the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The legal profession, in partnership with medical professionals and other stakeholders, should study the CSA and propose improvements to it where necessary.
A Call for Dialogue Fifteen Years Ago
On June 10, 1994, the Committee on Drugs and the Law (the “Committee”) of the New York City Bar Association released a report (the “Report”) entitled “A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition.”
It is available at http://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/94087WiserCourse.pdf
The Report argued in detail, inter alia, that drug prohibition strains the judicial system with no apparent diminution in drug trade or drug use, fills prisons at great expense to the taxpayers, disproportionately punishes racial minorities, corrupts police and erodes constitutional rights, subsidizes organized crime, drafts poor children into the drug trade, causes violence by engendering competition over the lucrative illegal drug market, fails to decrease demand for drugs, facilitates the spread of disease and impairs the health of drug users, and diverts resources from prevention and treatment to law enforcement.
In short, the Report argued that U.S. drug control policy is the cause of, rather than the solution for, many social problems associated with drugs, and it identified several alternatives to prohibition proposed by members of the federal judiciary (including repeal of all federal laws banning drug sales and possession in favor of state-level drug control, a policy of reduced arrests, and sale of drugs through state stores) without advocating any specific policy. (The Report also stated that any post-Prohibition regime should leave state and local governments able to apply penal sanctions when drug use results in harm to others, e.g. causing injury while using a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs and to address quality of life issues related to drugs. Report at 81-82.)
The 1994 Report closed with the Committee’s recommendation for “a public dialog regarding new approaches to drug policy, including legalization and regulation.” (Report at 83). Since the Report was issued, there has been a dramatic increase in the influence of drug policy reform advocacy organizations working around the United States on issues such as needle exchange, repeal of mandatory minimums, re-entry of drug law offenders into society, substance abuse treatment, and access to marijuana for medical purposes, but there has been no engaged, systematic evaluation of the rationale of United States drug control policy outside the reform community.
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."
On April 29th, the Committee is presenting a forum titled "Pleasure, Pain, Physicians and Police: The Law of Controlled Substances and the Practice of Medicine." Experts in law, medicine and history will discuss the CSA and its relationship to science, medical practice and the Commerce Clause.
- Marcus Reidenberg, MD, FACP, Professor of Pharmacology, Medicine, and Public Health, Head, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Weill Cornell Medical College;
- Joseph Spillane, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History, University of Florida;
- Buford Terrell, JD, LLM, Professor of Law (ret.), South Texas College of Law.
Where: New York City Bar, 42 West 44th St., New York NY 10036
About the Association
The New York City Bar Association (www.nycbar.org), since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public's welfare remains one of the Association's highest priorities.
King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project and the report: Effective Drug Control:Toward A New Legal Framework' (2005)