Mark Kleiman

  • May 24, 2010
    The Obama administration's recently released drug control strategy has drawn some plaudits for shifting from prior administrations' policies of focusing almost exclusively on punishing suppliers.

    Although Harold Pollack in an article for The New Republic says the policy, released last week, still focuses too much on the supply-side, he maintained, "America's drug policies just got a whole lot better." Pollack says the policy released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) still continues to "spend billions on operations against drug suppliers which have little demonstrated value."

    But, in his TNR article, Pollack says ONDCP head Gil Kerlikowske (pictured with President Obama) should be credited with limiting the "traditional blunderbuss rhetoric of American drug policy." Pollack continues, "This change is matched by Kerlikowske's personal inclusiveness and civility, traits that his Republican predecessor John Walters - who is known for alienating liberals and conservatives alike with his ecumenical disregards for opposing views - certainly did not possess.

    Even before the release of the ONDCP's 2010 National Drug Strategy, Newsweek reported on a leaked version of it.

    In a post for The Reality-Based Community blog, Professor Mark Kleiman discussed the leak, but also noted that the "new strategy can't completely avoid the trap of bowing in the direction of existing programs to get past agency review, and it has its share of pointless quantitative goals (some of them mandated by law). For example, there's no reason to think that the federal government has the capacity to reduce prevalence of drug use by 15%, or that raising the fraction of drugs seized on their way to the U.S. is either feasible or useful."

    Kleiman, professor of Public Policy and Director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, however, said the strategy provides a list of positives. He writes:

    But the strategy offers a fairly impressive list of innovations to set off against those disappointments. Of course the ones that matter most to me testing-and-sanctions programs for drug-involved offenders (which the "formidable" Bennett and McCaffrey never dared to endorse) and David Kennedy's Drug Market Intervention program designed to eliminate problematic drug markets without mass arrests. Together, those two programs alone would radically reduce the links between drugs and crime, and yet because they're neither "supply" or "demand" programs and have no visceral appeal to either side of the culture wars, they've struggled to get attention.

    Rather than just promising to pump more money into the existing drug-treatment machinery, the strategy focuses on the contribution the mainstream health-care effort could make toward dealing with substance abuse, in particular screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT). The money potentially available for his purpose under the health care bill, and in particular through the community clinic system, dwarfs the formal treatment system. The strategy aims to make sure that potential gets used; if it does, the effective balance between "supply" and "demand" spending would shift radically in fact, though it wouldn't change on paper.

  • October 26, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Mark A.R. Kleiman. Mr. Kleiman is professor of public policy at UCLA, editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, and the author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton). His previous books include Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control and Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results. He served as a drug policy analyst in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1979-1983. Mr. Kleiman blogs at The Reality-Based Community.

    Abusable drugs are regulated by federal law pursuant to treaty obligations. Since pharmaceuticals are sold in interstate commerce, their regulation is also a federal matter. But the practice of medicine is regulated by the states.

    Cannabis is an abusable drug with therapeutic properties. (Sativex, an extract containing all the active agents in whole cannabis, is now an approved drug in Canada.)

    Cannabis can easily be produced locally, with no interstate commerce involved.

    Several states have laws designed to make cannabis, despite its status as a Schedule I controlled substance under Federal law, available to patients whose physicians want them to have it for therapeutic purposes. California has gone the farthest down this road, with more many hundreds of "dispensaries" -- in effect, retail outlets -- now in operation, and physicians allowed to "recommend" cannabis for any condition or symptom, even something as unspecific as "anxiety."

    The California system has become an open joke, with physicians advertising themselves as "herbal recommendationists" and promising that if a visit doesn't lead to a recommendation there will be no fee. As a result, the "medical" market now makes up a substantial fraction of the total cannabis market in California, with revenues estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

    The precise shares of the "medical" cannabis market made up by (1) truly sick people with conditions cannabis might help - MS patients with spasm, HIV patients in search of appetite enhancement, chemotherapy patients fighting nausea - (2) chronic users in effect getting maintenance doses for their cannabis dependency, and (3) frankly non-medical users remains unknown, but few believe that the first category accounts for as much as 10 percent of the (massive) volume of the "medical" cannabis industry.

    Those efforts have, naturally, led to conflict between state and federal governments. The Supreme Court struck down a DEA effort to strip physicians of the federal licenses they need to prescribe controlled drugs as punishment for recommending that their patients use cannabis. But it later ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that the California statute did not protect either providers or recipients of cannabis from federal prosecution.

  • October 1, 2009
    When Brute Force Fails
    How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment
    Mark A.R. Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy & Director, Drug Policy Analysis Program, UCLA School of Public Affairs

    Crime, even after a decade of falling crime rates, remains a huge problem, and a major barrier to improving conditions in poor neighborhoods. Mass incarceration - one American adult in 100 is now behind bars - constitutes a problem in its own right. The challenge we face is how to shrink both problems at the same time.

    [Click the graph at right to zoom.] But not the way either liberals or conservatives normally think about the problem: not by building more prisons or "fixing root causes," not through "zero tolerance" or "restorative justice," not by "winning the drug war" or "ending prohibition," not with "more guns, less crime" or national gun registration.

    The current system of randomized severity gets us the worst of all possible worlds: high crime rates and mass incarceration.

    The alternative approach that could cut both crime and incarceration rates depends on a few principles, simple in concept but requiring effective management: