The Alliance of Reform Organizations (ARO) facilitates communication of drug policy reform leaders via an email list, voice mail and fax network. Bruce McKinney recently contributed the following discussion on how reform activists can and should "turn fear back against the people who support the system we all ought to fear."

Arguments To Make Americans Fear Prohibition, by Bruce McKinney

Introduction  -  Argument Listing  -  Detailed Discussion  -  Conclusions

Argument Listing (click on summary to read details)
Drug prohibitionists are responsible for the current disaster. Prohibitionists are on the same side as drug dealers.
Prohibitionists sacrifice kids in order to punish adults. Prohibitionists want to give drug users a free ride.
The puritans are going after you next. Prohibitionists don't give a damn about the constitution or democracy.
Prohibitionists think you're too stupid to make your own decisions. Prohibition is racist.
Prohibition undermines respect for the law. Prohibitionists don't give a damn about drug abuse.
Prohibitionists are naive and foolish, and therefore dangerous. Prohibitionists don't give a damn about drugged driving.
Prohibitionists support the black market with all its evils. Prohibitionists don't believe in capitalism or the free market.
Prohibitionists want to put their neighbors in jail for disagreeing with them. Prohibitionists have given us the best marijuana in the world.
Prohibitionist refuse to regulate potentially dangerous products. Prohibitionists oppose the concept of personal responsibility.
Conclusions: (click on summary to read details)
Treatment Rather Than Incarceration. Lower Priorities for Marijuana Enforcement.
Marijuana Decriminalization. Regulation and Taxation.
Drug prohibitionists are responsible for the current disaster.
Through some miracle of rhetoric, drug warriors seem to have convinced the public that they are responsible for some marvelous society where no one uses drugs because they are illegal, but that reformers are responsible for the current situation where anyone, regardless of age or income, can purchase drugs easily with no control whatsoever. And too often we let them get away with it.

We have to turn this around. They are responsible. We sometimes argue that drug abuse problems aren't as bad as you think. In some ways this may be true. A tiny percentage of Americans abuse hard drugs, but the problems created are far out of proportion to the amounts. Current policy increases drug abuse and a host of other problems. We are in a disaster area, and prohibitionists are responsible.

We should sound like a broken record. They support drug anarchy. We support drug control. We should always be talking about strict regulation and contrasting it with the current complete lack of control. The framework is the same regardless of the argument:

Drug Warrior: Illegal drugs cause problem X.

Drug Reformer: So why do you support that problem? It's a lot worse than you say, and you're responsible. The solution is Y, and you're opposed to it.

All the other arguments listed below are variations on this theme.

Prohibitionists sacrifice kids in order to punish adults. Kids can get drugs easily under the current system, buying them mostly from other kids. There are no regulations controlling access, only laws that ignore the reality of the market and usually make no practical distinction between children and adults. Prohibitionists are opposed to regulations that control access by kids because an effective regulatory system would allow adults controlled access to drugs. They oppose effective controls on children because they are unwilling to sacrifice their ineffective controls on adults,

Prohibitionists intend to protect kids from drugs, but they have to be deliberately blind not to notice the actual results. We need to tell parents the obvious fact: The government is not going to save your kids from becoming potheads.

There are many factors that will determine whether a child will become a marijuana user, abuser, or avoider. The biggest of these is the child's personal choice based on what he or she sees in the world. Next will be what parents teach or fail to teach. School policy will have more effect on where and when than on whether. The least important factor will be the government.

Compare the messages we send about alcohol and marijuana. The message for alcohol is: Although alcohol may have its rewards, it is too dangerous for young people. Wait until you are older to try it. But if you ignore this advice (which we assume you will at some point), drink in moderation and never drive while intoxicated.

The message for marijuana is: Marijuana is bad. The government has decided. You will never be old enough or mature enough to make up your own mind.

No wonder so many kids smoke pot. Our laws are apparently made by people who have never met a teenager in their lives. This is like telling kids they should never have sex because some people have had bad experiences with it. Any kid who actually accepts that he should defer his moral decisions to the government is doomed to a sterile life as a bureaucrat or politician.

I think a lot of parents unconsciously want to avoid dealing with the problem: Let the schools take care of it. Let the government take care of it. Drugs have replaced sex as the subject parents least want to talk to their kids about. And if parents do talk, they tend to talk at the kids rather than with them, even though in many cases the kids know more about drugs than the parents. Simply repeating "Don't take drugs" is not going to be enough, and telling lies about drugs is fatal.

Prohibitionists have in many cases successfully stolen this issue from us, and we have to aggressively take it back. Make it personal. Tell parents:

Go home tonight and ask your teenager whether he or she could get marijuana from school friends or acquaintances. If your teenager looks surprised and says: "Of course not. Marijuana is illegal. How could I ever get it when it's against the law?" If that happens, you should support our current prohibition system. Either that or check to see if you child is a fool or takes you for one. But if your teenager admits that it is easy to get marijuana, join us in supporting control of the marijuana market.

The puritans are going after you next. Smokers, gamblers, drinkers, gun owners, hang gliders, people who have sex outside of marriage-if you think the government only cares about drugs users, it's time to wake up.

For years Americans have been telling the government: "Mind other peoples' business, but don't interfere with my personal life." Here's what the government hears when you tell them that: "Mind other peoples' business."

Smokers are already feeling the heat. What percentage of American smokers feel that they are being unfairly persecuted, but at the same time support marijuana prohibition? They don't make the connection. We have to make it for them.

And what about drinkers? The drug czar has stated publicly that he believes that alcohol prohibition worked. Well if it solved problems then, why wouldn't he want to try it again? He doesn't dare say it out loud, but in his heart he wants to take alcohol away. We should quote him at every opportunity until he publicly renounces alcohol prohibition. And then point out that he's an immoral hypocrite who wants to enjoy his own dangerous drug while putting others in jail for using a less dangerous drug. The czar often actually says this: Why legalize another drug when we already have enough problems with alcohol and tobacco. In other words: I've got mine, fuck you.

We've already got a lot of gun owners on our side, but we need to reach out more. In fact everybody does something that somebody else doesn't like. Americans, especially conservatives, believe the government is too much in their face and continually involved in inappropriate areas. How would an American government even get the idea to control people's private lives? We have to tell people the truth: It's because we told them to, largely through prohibition.

This is going to be a little difficult for some drug reformers. It's incredible to me when I meet good activist drug reformers who are also activists in the movement to exclude, punish, or overtax smokers. We're starting to see living proof that overtaxing tobacco is a form of prohibition that fuels a black market and ultimately brings in less tax revenue. We also have drug reformers opposed to guns. Personally I believe in a well-regulated militia and would also like to see well-regulated drug consumers, but I'm going to keep my limited faith in regulation to myself when dealing with gun activists.

Prohibitionists think you're too stupid to make your own decisions. This is the heart of the prohibitionist argument. They want to make your most personal and private decisions for you.

If heroin were legalized and sold for $1 a hit at 7-11, would you become a heroin addict? What a coincidence! Neither would I. Neither would anyone I know. Most people don't want to be heroin addicts at any price. The people who do become addicts are desperate people in pain. They have their reasons, and the law isn't going to deter them.

Are there really a lot of people out there saying, "Gee, I'd sure like to smoke pot, but I can't. It's illegal." No red-blooded American is going to let the government tell him or her how to live the most private aspects of their lives. Imagine that in a fit of collective insanity, the United States House and Senate made tobacco completely illegal starting next week. What percentage of smokers would quit smoking? We're Americans. In the long run we'd see an increase in smoking.

Unfortunately, one of the most unpleasant aspect of American history is the puritan urge that makes Americans who would never accept interference in their own lives try to impose their values on others. Americans should all be required to sit in a special booth and take this simple test by pressing the one of two buttons:

Who should make the most personal decisions in your life? You or me?

Who should make the most personal decisions in my life? Me or you?

Those who pressed the wrong buttons would automatically be ejected by a kind a missile built into the booth and would land in a randomly selected authoritarian country such as North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq.

Prohibition undermines respect for the law. Millions of patriotic Americans have no reservations about violating a law that says "Our vice is OK, but we're going to put you in jail for yours even though ours is more dangerous." Such a law is unworthy of respect on the face of it. And when the law inevitably leads to police corruption, abuse of authority, and foolish priorities, it causes people to distrust police even when they need real law enforcement.

Prohibitionists are naive and foolish, and therefore dangerous. On New Year's Eve, 1920, prohibitionists celebrated the end of drunkenness. After thousands of years of human history marred by alcohol abuse leading to broken homes and other heartbreak, they believed we were finally going to see the end of demon rum.

How could they have been so stupid? Well, at that time they didn't have clear examples of what would happen. No one had tried prohibition on such a scale. They didn't know any better. But today's prohibitionists have abundant evidence, past and present. Yet they push ahead as if the outcome weren't clear.

Imagine a man who hits himself on the head with a hammer and it hurts. Well, he thinks maybe it would work better if he hit himself with a ball peen hammer rather than a claw hammer. To his surprise, it still hurts. So he tries a wooden mallet, a doctor's rubber hammer, and a sledgehammer. But no matter what hammer he uses, it still hurts.

It's time to give these people the solution: Stop hitting yourself over the head with a hammer. We didn't have a major drug abuse problem until we got prohibition. It has done nothing but grow ever since. Ups and downs and changing trends in drug preferences can't hide the overall direction.

Several times prohibition officials have set prominent public deadlines and goals for reductions in drug abuse. For example, the first demand reduction goal of the 1999 goals of the ONDCP was: Reduce the overall prevalence of illicit drug use by 25 percent by 2002 and by 50 percent by 2007 (using a 1996 base of known statistics). Has drug use been reduced by 25 percent? Is it likely to be reduced by 50 percent by 2007? How can people like McCaffrey even have the nerve to appear in public? We should hold the people who created these goals responsible for their failures.

Prohibitionists support the black market with all its evils. We all know these arguments, but too often we make them in a reasonable tone as if the opponent's case is actually worthy of consideration and argument. We need to point to prohibitionists with horror and disgust and say:

You support the black market. You favor funding terrorists. You subsidize organized crime. You are responsible for most of the crime in this country. You support a system that makes drugs easily available to kids. You are opposed to regulating dangerous products."

Of course we can recognize and salute the drug czar's good intentions. Thanks for all your help, now go help somebody else for a while. Maybe Saudi Arabia or Russia or Cuba could use a good bureaucrat to oversee 90 years of black market corruption.

Prohibitionists want to put their neighbors in jail for disagreeing with them. One of the polls I worked with had this question:

Do you personally know anyone who has used marijuana?

Predictably most people (65 percent) said they did. Of those, we asked this question:

Do you think that person should go to jail for using marijuana?

Only 32 percent said they wanted to send their neighbors to jail even though only 32 percent supported a tax and regulate strategy. When you get to specifics, people aren't really as evil as they claim to be.

Personally I bet that even the drug czar isn't as evil as he claims to be. I bet he knows someone-a neighbor or relative-that he strongly suspects might light up a joint now and then. But like most Americans, he's probably not really a bad enough person to turn in his friends and relatives.

Prohibitionist refuse to regulate potentially dangerous products. We should sound like a broken record on this. Prohibitionists support drug anarchy. We support drug control. We should always be talking about strict regulation and contrasting it with complete lack of control.

We have overwhelming evidence that regulations work better than prohibition in controlling potentially dangerous products. When you make something illegal, you lose all control of it. When you regulate it, you can control it, although imperfectly.

People hate regulations because they are never perfect. The market changes, and the regulations need to change to catch up. But the slow political process sometimes inserts regulatory conditions more related to politics and money than to control of risky aspects of the products. That's why we see some weird, pointless aspects of alcohol regulations in different states.

But the alternatives to regulation, prohibition and anarchy, are much worse. Alcohol prohibition was partly a reaction to alcohol anarchy. There were very few controls and abuse was out of control. So they tried prohibition and that didn't work either. Eventually they compromised on regulation, and that has worked much better, although imperfectly.

The pattern of synthesizing the experiences of anarchy and prohibition to get regulation can be seen in other contexts. Switzerland tried cracking down on hard drug use, then they tried allowing drugs in a needle park, and when neither of those worked, they tried regulating addiction. The Swiss seem happier with the results of regulation.

This argument isn't going to go down well with our Libertarian allies. I've met a lot of Libertarians who seem to want marijuana to be the only product in America that is completely unregulated and untaxed. They talk about the Tomato Model, as if production of tomatoes and other agricultural products were really unregulated. I respect the Libertarian view, which is internally consistent and sensible. But I urge Libertarians who oppose regulations to start with alcohol, not marijuana. We've long argued that marijuana should be regulated like alcohol. If we clean up or eliminate alcohol regulation, it will make sense to do the same for marijuana and other drugs.

Prohibitionists are on the same side as drug dealers. Drug dealers oppose regulation and taxation. Prohibitionists oppose regulation and taxation. We should ask the drug czar and others: Are you on the drug dealers' payroll, or do you work for them for free?

The unspoken deal prohibitionists have with is simple. We'll put 10 percent of you in prison and make the other 90 percent of you rich. Drug dealers are happy to take this deal because each of them believes they'll be part of the 90 percent. And indeed it is often the dumber and less careful dealers who get caught. In other words, we have an evolutionary survival-of-the-fittest system that makes drug networks more and more efficient.

For the Nevada campaign I wanted to see an ad that showed the drug czar and a stereotype of a drug dealer (ponytail and earring). Czar: I sell fear. Dealer: I sell marijuana. Both: We oppose Measure 9. Don't regulate or tax marijuana. The current system works just fine. I imagined a billboard with the words: Save our jobs. Vote no on Measure 9. Marijuana Retailers of Nevada. But the Nevada organization had a much more reasonable plan, and offensive ads like this wouldn't have fit in their campaign.

My position is ironic. The drug czar thinks drug dealers are immoral thugs preying on innocent customers who are too stupid to make their own choices, yet he wants to continue the same. I am a strong supporter of capitalism who thinks selling dangerous products to people who want to buy them is perfectly legitimate, yet I want to put drug dealers out of business.

Actually, this argument glosses over a serious problem. When this nation finally comes to its senses and regulates drugs, people, areas, and even countries that depend on drug sales are going to be in serious trouble. The most talented and ambitious people in our inner cities are going to be cut out of their only reasonable economic opportunity. Countries like Colombia, Afghanistan, and Myanmar, are going to have serious economic difficulties. British Columbia and Northern California are in for a depression. It would be nice if we could have some programs to integrate the old economy into a new economy, but don't count on anything that sensible.

Prohibitionists want to give drug users a free ride. Alcohol users pay an extremely high tax rate (seems like it was about 80 percent in Washington State). Pot smokers pay nothing. Prohibition doesn't really stop people from using drugs. It just stops them from paying taxes. Most drug users (but not drug sellers) want to pay their fair share of taxes, but the government won't let them.

The other side of the financial argument is the huge waste of money spent on ineffective policies that don't accomplish their goals. I suspect that the jealousy argument (your neighbors are getting away with something) may be more effective than the efficiency argument (your taxes are being poured down the toilet). But in fact neither of these arguments works if our opponents succeed in making people more scared of drugs than we make them scared of prohibition. We saw this in Nevada, where the efficiency argument did well in early polls, but bogged down against drug war paranoia.

I think as a movement we have not found an effective way to pose the economic questions. I like to state it in the form of questions:

1. Who should get the profits from the sale of marijuana (and other drugs)? A. You and other taxpayers. B. Drug dealers.

2. Who should pay for additional government services such as schools and highways? A. Yourself. B. Pot smokers.

3. What kind of taxes do you prefer? A. Mandatory. B. Voluntary.

The bottom line is that financial arguments may work in combination with other arguments, but they can't stand alone. People are willing to pay a high price for drug prohibition if they think it works even a little.

Prohibitionists don't give a damn about the constitution or democracy. Most of us could go on and on about this, but constitutionality is an abstract concept. Most people don't really care whether federal law conflicts with the Tenth Amendment, and they don't understand that the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly for almost a hundred years that the Tenth Amendment doesn't mean what it says. But they do care if the federal government overrides their votes.

We need to make this personal. When dealing with local voters, pick a controversial issue and ask who should make the decision about it: Voters in your state? Or legislators from California? (Substitute Georgia if you're in California.) Imagine a situation where your votes and the votes of your legislators don't count. That's what the federal government wants to do on all drug issues. They want their judgments to override yours.

Most Americans subscribe to the idea that they best control is local control. City or county laws are better than state laws, and state laws are better than federal laws. The only exception is that any time anybody disagrees with the local law, they look to the higher level to override it. Unfortunately people have generally forgotten principles and now appeal to whatever level of government they agree with rather than accept control at the appropriate level.

We need to remind people at the most personal level that if the some laws can be made and enforced at inappropriate levels, other laws that they disagree with can be enforced in the same way.

Prohibition is racist. The racist argument is a powerful one for bringing minority groups into the reform movement. Too often the victims don't understand what is being done to them. But I think it can be a mistake to overuse this argument with the mainstream. White guilt is a real emotion, but not a very powerful one. Don't count on white people to give up racism, much less drug prohibition, from a feeling of guilt. In a just society, outrage about the Tulia fiasco would have driven a lot more change than it has.

Prohibitionists don't give a damn about drug abuse. What really bugs the hell out of them is that a lot of us are out here using marijuana or other drugs occasionally without any harm to ourselves or our neighbors. There are lots of solutions that can reduce the real harms of drug abuse, but drug warriors oppose them. What really bugs them is that we are using drugs that they don't use, even though our drugs are often less dangerous than the ones they use.

It bugs the hell out of them when professional sports figures use marijuana with no apparent effect on their performance. It bugs the hell out of them when artists who use drugs produce great music, art, or literature. It bugs the hell out of them that a screenwriter like Aaron Sorkin can win an armful of Emmys without any apparent interference from his drug use. It bugs them that a marijuana user like Carl Sagan could produce such a body of scientific and creative work. If prohibitionists had their way, John Lennon would be alive today-in prison.

It's not drug abuse they really care about. It's drug use.

Dare them to ask Michael Jordan if he ever used marijuana during his glory years. Dare them to ask Bill Gates if he ever used marijuana during the early years of Microsoft's growth. And that's not even starting on political figures. They don't want to ask the questions because they don't want the answers.

Prohibitionists don't give a damn about drugged driving. Imagine a DWI roadblock where police test suspicious drivers. They give them a Breathalyzer test, and the result comes back: This person drank some alcohol sometime in the last 30 days. If prohibitionists were serious about drugged driving, they'd put some of their piles of taxpayer money into developing a marijuana equivalent to the Breathalyzer (note that this argument is really about marijuana because driving under other types of illegal drugs is negligible in comparison).

We need to turn the tables on them. If drugged driving is really a problem, why don't you do something useful about it instead of wasting resources on universal testing ideas that won't hold up for ten minutes in an appeals court? They don't really give a damn about drugged driving. It's just an excuse for going after all drug users whether they have a problem or not.

Of course there are a lot of other arguments about drugged driving. Alcohol makes you drive fast and reckless while marijuana makes you drive slow and paranoid. But we're not going to succeed in selling that to the public no matter how true it is. Besides they might sensibly want to keep slow, paranoid drivers off the road not because they are dangerous, but because they hold up traffic. Some reformers might oppose a pot breathalyzer test because it would stop some experienced pot smokers from driving even if they can do so without impairment. Well, tough luck. We're never going to sell that to an ignorant public. Many people drive safely under the influence of alcohol above the legal limit, but that argument won't wash in court, and pot smokers shouldn't expect special favors either.

The only argument simple enough to sell to the public is that there is no test for marijuana impairment and prohibitionists don't want to develop one. Sure, this plays loose with science. Spending money on developing an impairment test doesn't guarantee that you can solve the technical problems. But until prohibitionists are willing to try the science, we can blame them for not caring about the real risks of drug use.

Prohibitionists don't believe in capitalism or the free market. I first recognized the power of the free market as an exchange student in the Soviet Union (remember Communism?) in 1976. I had brought cheap American shoes because I was poor. They wore out, and I went to a shoe store in the closest thing they had to a mall on the main street of Leningrad. This store had no shoes. They had some size 5 and some size 16, but nothing for adult humans.

I as puzzled. There I was in a city of four million and everybody was wearing shoes even though there were no shoes in the shoe store. Where were people getting their shoes? Well, it turned out Russians were buying shoes they same place Americans get marijuana. They were buying them in the real world, the world that exists whether the government likes it or not.

And it wasn't just shoes. Under communism, the market for every commodity had a touch of graft.

Communism's attempt to control economic behavior lasted 70 years. Prohibition in various forms has lasted longer than that. Let's hope it will eventually die as suddenly and as surprisingly. But don't expect that we won't pay a heavy price just as the Russians are still paying for Communism.

At heart prohibitionists share two fundamental beliefs with Communists. They believe that it is the government's right and responsibility to control the most private aspects of people's lives in an attempt to save them from bad decisions. And they believe that they government can control economic behavior if it tries real hard.

In fact government is capable of nudging economic behavior in the desired direction through taxes and regulations. As the United States has learned from experience, these have to be constantly adjusted as the market tries to break free. But trying to deny the law of supply and demand by simply shutting down parts of the market creates a black market with effects opposite to those intended. A carefully planned regulatory system would eliminate the black market not by making it illegal but by making it redundant.

Prohibitionists have given us the best marijuana in the world. This is what happens when you challenge capitalism. Drug warriors claim that marijuana is much more powerful than it used to be (often exaggerating the real increases), but they won't take credit for their amazing accomplishment. Some of the leading botany research in the world is on marijuana enhancement. The American (and Canadian) marijuana industry has made stunning developments in technology, leaving the low-end market to the old third-world producers.

The same thing happens with other drugs. Without prohibition, crack cocaine would not exist. No one would have thought to develop the technology. Prohibitionists can also take credit for many new designer drugs. If they continue, relatively harmless drugs like khat will soon be synthesized into truly dangerous products.

Prohibitionists oppose the concept of personal responsibility. First they argue that the people responsible for drug abuse are the sellers of drugs rather than the buyers. And when that seems too stupid, they claim that users are responsible for drug abuse whether they abuse or not. Prohibition is incompatible with personal responsibility because it teaches that we are responsible not for what we do, but for what we might do if possible drug use had some theoretical effects.

Are bartenders and liquor store clerks responsible for alcoholism? Are gun clerks at Wal-Mart responsible for violent crime? Are car salesmen responsible for automobile crashes?

Personal responsibility is the heart of American morality. We can't agree on who God is and what he or she wants, but we used to be able to agree on this one moral principle: you are responsible for your own actions. But prohibitionists have been undermining this concept for 90 years.

Personally I think this is our most important argument. It is the primary reason that I am involved in drug reform. It's the last chance for patriots to try to save our country from decline and corruption. At the same time it's one of the hardest sells we have. The argument just doesn't sound very practical.

But it is. You constantly hear people complaining about government interference. You hear them complaining about our litigious society and successful lawsuits about trivial matter that should be resolved out of court. You hear them complaining about ridiculous applications of laws, such as expelling students for bringing tiny penknives to school. Where do all these violations of privacy come from? From the decline of the principle of personal responsibility. And that decline comes largely from the acceptance of prohibition.

Sometimes it seems like a hopeless battle. Americans have come to believe in prohibition. They may doubt it's effectiveness, but they accept its morality. And that's why we're never going to get rid of it by chipping away at the edges.

The idea that individuals are merely pawns in a great battle between good cops and bad drug pushers is a dangerous philosophy that places moral responsibility on the government rather than on individuals. This is a particularly insidious doctrine to teach kids. If our children come to accept the idea that government knows best, their lives will be ruined far more effectively than they could be by marijuana abuse.


So what does this mean in terms of strategy? These are not new arguments, but they are not the arguments that we have stressed in national and state campaigns. The reason is simple. These arguments don't work in the type of campaigns we have been running. For example:

Treatment Rather Than Incarceration. Even when successful, these campaigns leave prohibition intact. You can't attack prohibition as evil, stupid, and immoral if you were going to maintain it in a slightly less obnoxious form. We whittled away at the prohibition system without really taking it on. A few failures in the last election don't necessarily invalidate this strategy. But we need to understand that our opponents are on to the whittling away strategy. They will fight ruthlessly, cheating when necessary (as in the last election). We're going to have to play rough to beat them. And it's going to be difficult because we are fighting handicapped. It's hard to summon emotional outrage against prohibition when your main objection is that it is inefficient.

I'm not saying we should abandon these campaigns. In any case they seem to be a force of nature within our movement. Few of us have direct involvement, and even fewer the influence to try to stop them. But whether or not Treatment Rather Than Incarceration has more successes, this strategy in itself isn't going to stop prohibition. Proponents have always known recognized it as a transition tactic that won't be sufficient. Perhaps it is time to start asking whether this tactic has served its purpose. Is it still useful? I suspect proponents are not ready to give up on treatment initiatives, but even we if we continue with them, we need to fight more emotional battles in parallel.

Marijuana Decriminalization. Many of you have heard me criticize marijuana decriminalization before. I think it's a bad strategy that won't ever withstand the conflict of a fear-based campaign. Proponents start with more popular support than for regulation, but they have no defenses against drug war hysteria. It does nothing to protect children or to end any of the other evils of prohibition. Few of the emotional arguments above apply in a decriminalization campaign. Even if it were successful, decriminalization might well perpetuate prohibition rather than undermine it.

Lower Priorities for Marijuana Enforcement. I oppose this strategy for the same reasons I oppose marijuana decriminalization. I don't believe it will ever pass in the current environment. It's about being nicer to drug users, not about being nicer to everyone by ending prohibition. The only place it might succeed is in areas where the majority of people have a direct or indirect economic stake in marijuana production (Northern California or British Columbia). Even then, it would have little practical effect because state and federal drug laws usually override local laws.

Regulation and Taxation. As you can guess, this is my favorite strategy. It allows us to attack our enemies with moral outrage at the evils of prohibition and the benefits of personal privacy, and it promises a decrease in drug abuse through regulation.

Since I got involved in drug reform we have seen two major Tax and Regulate Campaigns: Alaska and Nevada. Unfortunately both those campaign were run as if they were Decriminalization campaigns. Look at the TV ads run in Nevada. They could have been run with little change in the Decriminalization campaign across the border in Arizona. There was no moral outrage. The emphasis was on saving money and concentrating on real crime by not prosecuting pot smokers. Of course you could get those same benefits from Decriminalization.

The Alaska campaign a couple years ago was the same story, except that in that case I have to bear a lot of the responsibility. I was directly involved in some of the ads, and knew about the others. One of the experts involved in that campaign arranged a focus group that I listened in on a few days before the election. They ran all the proposed ads for a group of undecided voters. The response by participants was basically "All these ads suck." None of them addressed the real issues that voters were concerned with. None of them changed any participant's mind.

One reason organizers run Decriminalization ads in Tax and Regulate campaigns is because decriminalization and the arguments for it get better results in polls and focus groups. That is because American voters accept prohibition as legitimate, while recognizing that it doesn't work. Decriminalization seems like a way to keep prohibition without being so stupid about it. But this kind of half-hearted support doesn't hold up when the opposition turns up the fear.

Instead of running initiative campaigns to try to sneak past public opinion, we need to make a concentrated effort to change it. We can do this on a national level by changing the emphasis of our arguments. But I believe we also need to find one state to concentrate our efforts on. For reasons worthy of a separate discussion, I think Nevada is the best place to do this, but the strategy would be the same regardless of the state chosen.

We need a concentrated campaign of several years to change peoples' minds. We have to create public opinion rather than follow it. We have to scare the hell out of people about the very thing they ought to be most scared of: prohibition. When polls show that we have changed enough minds, we can run an aggressive Tax and Regulate initiative campaign to prove that we have succeeded.

I realize that what I'm proposing is radical. Perhaps I have a better chance of persuading Dan Burton than of getting key support within the movement. It's a major change from the current national strategy, although I know that many grass roots activists are already on board.

In any case I'd like to hear a discussion of these ideas, and from those who disagree, alternate strategies for dealing with fear-based opposition.

Date: Sat, 4 Jan 2003 10:54:09 -0800
From: Bruce McKinney
To: ARO Mailing List (Alliance of Reform Organizations)
Subject: RE: ARO: Fear and Change

Last month I wrote a message stating my opinion that we lost the recent elections because the opposition was able to mobilize fear against us. I'd like to follow up with my specific ideas about how to turn fear back against the people who support the system we all ought to fear. Anyone who has read my previous opinions on this list will not be greatly surprised by what I have to say.

To date we have taken a sensible, reasonable line. In other words, we have been policy wonks. Our positions are based on polling about what Americans currently believe. We attempt to gradually move them toward a slightly more progressive version of their current views. This has worked up to a point. Americans are certainly more skeptical of drug prohibition than they were a few years ago. But I fear that they've gone as far as they're going to go, particularly since the opposition has rediscovered fear as a weapon against us. Drug warriors apparently noticed that whenever they argue the case on its merits, they lose. In this election they made little pretense at being reasonable, and it worked.

They rediscovered what we seem to have forgotten. This is not a drug policy debate. It is a drug war. And war is a ruthless struggle, driven not by logic, but by emotion. The three emotions that drive social change are fear, greed, and pity. We have been concentrating on pity, with a little touch of civilized greed. But pity for others can never match fear for yourself. For the final push we're going to have to make Americans fear prohibition.

Our current strategy does work on one issue. We consistently defeat drug warriors on medical marijuana. We often argue emotionally and effectively that what they are doing is not just ineffective, but immoral and harmful. Our continual medical marijuana victories have been a great benefit to the movement, but they haven't carried over on other issues as much as we hoped. Medical cannabis will soon be available in non-smoked forms more acceptable to the medical establishment. There is some reason to suspect that our opponents may soon come to their senses and stop helping us by pushing their idiotic war on medical marijuana. If that happens, we'll lose one of our most effective issues and have to concentrate on the real issues where we have been less successful.

So here are the arguments that I'd like to see us start using. The polls I've seen show that the public is not with us at all on these issues. We can't just nudge people into gradually accepting these views. We're going to have to shock them-show some moral outrage instead of arguing reasonably. We're going to have to repeat these arguments in an emotional way until people recognize the arguments, and eventually accept them. It's going to take time and money, and we may at first appear to be losing ground. But it's what we have to do to win.