PROYECTO DE INVESTIGACIÓN “RETHINK THE WAR OF DRUGS”
PROPOSAL FOR MULTI-DISCIPLINARY SYMPOSIUM ON DRUG CONTROL AND ALTERNATIVE METHODS TO PUNISHMENT
Justification and Objectives: Considering the woeful failure of the “War on Drugs,” with its “hard nosed” and prohibition driven approach to drug use and trade in the U.S. and beyond, the need for an alternate public policy model becomes pressing. Prohibition and law enforcement have made very little headway in delivering us to the much-touted “Drug-free world” heralded by politicians and policy makers in the 1990s. Violent crime, incarceration rates and use and abuse of dangerous substances like cocaine have continued to rise. Drug users and addicts are still seen as somehow morally deplorable and thus, have been further marginalized thru formal and informal channels, under a legislative philosophy that punishes and dismisses them, instead of engaging and assisting them thru treatment. All the while, millions of dollars continue to be spent on law enforcement, guided by the promise that eventually, somehow the drug problem will be substantially ameliorated, if not completely eradicated.
This promise, however, has yielded very little fruit and leaves numerous questions unanswered that deserve careful ponderation, dialogue and debate. For example: What is the image of the drug user/addict that this public policy targets? How is this image marked by class and race? What role does the notion of a “public morality” play in justifying (and even clamoring for) a more repressive legislation? Has the War on Drugs been fair in is application and how should basic notions of fairness and justice figure in determining the model’s lack of effectiveness? Furthermore, how might these policies be seen as a framework for the so-called War on Terror and what parallels can be drawn between the two in an effort to better understand and analyze the ideological underpinnings of an exclusively punitive approach?
Dialogue on these matters and others demands a reflexive, critical and multi- disciplinary approach in order the weigh in and identify the specific shortcomings of present drug control policies and more importantly, begin to map out an alternate legislative philosophy and model for implementation.
Scope of the Project: It is with these particular goals in mind that we propose to hold a symposium on drug control and alternative methods to punishment. This symposium would feature some of the top researchers, intellectuals and policy makers from the social science, medical and health services fields along with distinguished members of the judiciary, legislative and executive branches. The involvement of representatives from these different areas of knowledge is key, as the drug problem demands the intersection of critical looks and perspectives, for its repercussions are not felt just one or two isolated areas of society.
The symposium would be specifically driven by an inquiry into the possibilities of an education-centered and health care oriented approach to drug control, which would promulgate, at least presumably, a radically different view of the drug user/addict (not morally bankrupt and reprehensible, but worthy of attention), and would alter (for the better) the relationship between the State and its citizens; specifically poor communities and communities of Color.
A new and possibly more daunting set of questions will materialize through this exploration. For example: What role would decriminalization and/or legalization of certain drugs play within a public health model of drug control? What possible impact could decriminalization have on violent crime and addiction rates? How would the implementation of a less punitive drug control model impact the relationship between the U.S. and “source countries”? What effect could such a change in philosophy have on immigration policy and national security?
Basic Framework and Timetable: The basis for this project is Honorable Judge Juan R. Torruella’s article One Judge’s Attempt at a Rational Discussion on the So-Called War on Drugs. In this work, Judge Torruella outlines the most evident flaws of drug control policy at the time, explores some of the successes and failures of decriminalization in other countries, and speaks to the seemingly greater benefits of an education-centered and health-care oriented approach to drug control.
The article, also, because of the position of the speaker within the judicial system, serves as a reflection on the possibilities of judicial officers undertaking a proactive approach in informing and (re) shaping the system through changing historical contexts. The article then in a way calls for a double dialogue: On the one hand, it calls for a sincere discussion on the character and consequences of past and current drug control policy and on the other, it establishes an avenue for an examination of the role of judicial officers as valuable sources of knowledge and possible agents of change. We will attempt to negotiate both dialogues in the symposium.
Furthermore, as part of this project, we will review and actualize Judge Torruella’s article, which upon publication will serve as the “springboard” for the symposium. The article shall be ready for submission by the end of the year, with the symposium scheduled for the fall of 2011.