One of the images I like the most in the new report from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation is this graph, which shows the way the impacts of illegal drug use can go up or down depending on the type of regulatory or prohibition scheme that is imposed.
This graph is a great complement to the simple diagrams based on Prof. Lawrence Lessig’s work that show the way various societal forces can control individual behavior.
The point of the Lessig-type diagrams was that we give up a considerable amount of control over drugs by relying solely on the criminal justice system to implement that control. And what the Transform diagram shows very nicely is that there is, in fact, a sweet spot where we’re able to exercise the maximum amount of control.
The sweet spot is not created through some sort of “free-for-all” where anybody can do whatever they want, which is the option represented by the “unregulated legal market” end of the graph. The sweet spot is also not created through a heavily law enforcement-oriented model, which is the option represented by the “illegal market gangsterism” end of the graph and is the reality we actually have in place today.
The sweet spot is the area in the middle, where society relies primarily on the robust controls of the regulated market and the institutions that are already charged with improving drug purity and safety. It’s a system that still makes use of criminal justice, but in a dramatically pared back fashion, focusing on preventing actual harms rather than prohibiting individuals from altering their own subjectivity.
The sweet spot is created precisely the same way we already deal with drugs like OxyContin, methadone, alcohol and Tylenol: with a regulated market that provides optimum control over individual behavior and creates minimum collateral impacts on society. The sweet spot is the alternative to prohibition, and it’s the goal toward which we need to be moving.