As the war on drugs continues to waste taxpayer money, destroy families, and undermine the rule of law, more and more conservatives are speaking out. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a Congressional caucus composed of more than 100 conservative House Republicans, recently came out for eliminating a number of failed drug war programs, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, the Safe and Drug-Free School programs, and the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Last year, the American Conservative Union, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and the National Taxpayers Union urged Congress to eliminate six failed drug war programs to save money in the wake of Katrina. Those programs included the three programs RSC targeted for elimination, as well as student drug testing grants, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (aka Plan Colombia).That's an interesting twist, isn't it? I sat on a panel in D.C. last year with representatives from the Heritage Foundation and the National Taxpayers Union who both criticized the Byrne grant program, and you could tell their critique of the drug war went way beyond this one federal program.
The fascinating part about that panel was how those conservative activists, myself representing ACLU of Texas, and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Policy Center all came to the same conclusion - Byrne grant funding is counterproductive and has got to go -- from entirely different ideological perspectives. As recounted in this blog post, I actually agreed more with the right wingers' comments than I did with Nkechi!
These fellows were ideologues, not at all like the pork-driven law enforcement bureaucrats who pass off the drug war as "conservatism" at the Texas Legislature: Federalism, not forfeiture animated their views on the drug war. This recommendation by the Republican Study Committee confirms that those positions represent not just activists but a signficant portion of conservatives in Congress.
The signs of this shift toward a new consensus are everywhere. DPA's press release mentioned that "Maryland Republican Governor Robert Erhlich also passed treatment instead of incarceration legislation in 2004," but it could have added that Texas Governor Rick Perry signed "treatment instead of incarceration legislation" in Texas in 2003 (HB 2668). With Texas' prisons bursting at the seams, it's reasonable to expect more such legislaton next year, likely strengthening probation services to handle more drug offenders outside of prison.
I wrote last week how I was struck by Dan Kahan's argument that successful policy goals must be ambiguous to reach consensus - that different people had to be able to tell different stories to explain the outcome, to reach the same conclusion from different perspectives. That's what's happening, to my mind, on the drug war. There are now so many reasons to think our current approach is a bad idea, nearly anybody can join in the fun of criticizing it.