Drug Policy as a Revolutionary Cycle

An interesting article in the Times about the “glamour” of drug use prompted the realization that drug policy – both here and abroad – has to date followed the classical cycle of instability and revolution familiar to students of history the world over.

That cycle – of which the events in Poland in the early 1980s are often held up as a perfect example – is characterized by three subsequent modes of behavior on the part of government. First, when confronted with a (real or perceived) threat or problem, they under-react; this leads to an escalation, to which they inevitably over-react. This overreaction almost invariably leads to an increase in popular support for the group, activity, or cause in question – to which the government, however reluctantly, makes concessions, if only limited. (This is how, throughout history, “rebels”, “anarchists”, and “dissidents” become “opposition parties”.)

You can see this cycle play out in history regarding alcohol, marijuana, and absinthe – at least in the U.S., as well as things like firearms ownership, fireworks possession, and numerous others. Even the history of U.S. crypto laws demonstrates this cycle. For a number of subjects, the first two stages of the cycle have already occurred, and while conceding to popular opinion is by no means a given – for starters, you have to have relatively widespread support, which is never guaranteed – forward-leaning analysis suggests it might eventually come. The government’s ill-conceived crackdown on pyrotechnic chemicals, for example, could theoretically produce enough opposition to get the laws changed in favor of rocketry enthusiasts, but it seems unlikely. Then again, the assault-rifle ban only lasted a decade or so…

The point is, governments always under-react, then over-react, to these kinds of problems. If they’d just, uh, learn from history, they could avoid the need to deal later with the larger problems their actions create. That, however, seems unlikely to ever happen…

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on March 6th, 2008| Comments Off on Drug Policy as a Revolutionary Cycle

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