HAWKS Ascendant: The Punitive Trend of American Drug Policy

by Peter Reuter

Drug policy has generated two debates. One concerns the retention of our current prohibitions (the legalization debate). The other is that between what are usually called the supply-side advocates (who seek continued expansion of efforts to imprison drug sellers and detect and punish drug users) and the demand-side advocates (who accept the need for enforcement but argue that programs aimed at prevention and treatment, or demand, should receive increased funding). This paper combines the two debates on drug policy into a three-sided discussion among hawks (supply-side advocates), doves (legalizers), and owls (bold demand-side advocates) about the nature of the drug problem and the consequences of different approaches to controlling it. The author describes the increasing success of the hawks in taking control of drug policy and making it distinctively punitive. He suggests that this approach may have gone too far and that the commitment to maintaining enforcement at its current level limits the domain of policy options. He argues in favor of an "aggressive owlishness," derived from the European "harm reduction" approach.

Originally published in: Daedalus, v. 121, no. 3, 1992, pp. 15-52.

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