“Dear Mr. President”: Changing U.S. Drug Policy
Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized “recreational” marijuana use by adults 21 years and older (see map ). At the same time, the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, has announced changes in federal policy that signal a return to the 20th century “War on Marijuana (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” that was documented in Ron Mann’s film, Grass. Most recently, Sessions reversed a policy of the Obama administration that blocked federal intervention in marijuana sales in states where it was legal (see AP article ). This means that federal prosecutors can once again “crack down” on marijuana in spite of state law (see NYT editorial (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.).
President Donald Trump himself has said virtually nothing about this shift in policy or about marijuana legalization in general since he has been in office. Therefore, it is unclear where he stands on this issue. We do know that he often disagrees with Attorney General Sessions. So, what would you advise President Trump to do in this case? Should he support a new War on Marijuana? Or should he join with the states that are moving toward wider acceptance of recreational use of this substance?
In Paper 2, I want you to write a two page letter to the President offering your views—informed by materials from the course and on the internet—about changes he should make in U.S. marijuana policy. First, you should begin your letter by giving President Trump your assessment of the prohibitionist policies that have been emphasized by past presidents, including Richard Nixon and George Bush, and being promoted by Attorney General Sessions. How do you view the War on Marijuana? Has it been a success or failure? What can we learn about future policies based on our past experience with punitive controls and with more recent cases of legalization?
Next, you should provide the President with some ideas or proposals for changing and, hopefully, improving U.S. drug policies. What do you think can and should be done to strengthen or redirect governmental efforts to deal with marijuana and other drugs in the U.S. and throughout the world? What have we learned from research or from innovative programs in other nations that could be applied to drug policy in the U.S.?
Before you begin your letter, you should read Goode’s discussions of policy issues in Chapters 15 and 16 of Drugs in American Society. There are also a number of good sources on the web about marijuana prohibition and other policy approaches. The website of the Drug Policy Alliance (https://http://www.drugpolicy.org/legalization-status-report (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) is probably the single best source of arguments and evidence about marijuana policy on the internet. DPA is an advocacy organization that promotes legalization of marijuana and public health approaches to drug problems, such as “harm reduction,” as alternatives to drug prohibition. On the other hand, the National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a reasonably comprehensive overview of risks of marijuana use with links and references to relevant research: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
Finally, an article in the Online Review by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter summarizes some of the evidence and conclusions from their comprehensive analysis of drug policy, Drug War Heresies (Cambridge University Press, 2001). Although MacCoun and Reuter are quite critical of current drug policy in the U.S., they also raise serious questions about the potential effectiveness of less punitive alternatives. This article is posted in the Online Review under “Lectures” for Unit 13. You might also find the slideshow, “Problems with Prohibition,” useful–see Unit 12, “Resources” in the Online Review.
You should write the paper as a single-spaced letter, opening with “Dear Mr. President.” The paper should be somewhere between two-to-four pages in length, single-spaced (not including references or any appended material). You should properly quote and cite any sources that you use in the paper and include a list of references at the very end of the paper. Use ASA format for citations and references.
We will deduct two points a day for late papers. Don’t forget to keep a copy of your paper. The paper will receive the full 15 points credit if it is:
(a) clearly focused on the assigned topic;
(b) well-organized and systematically argued;
(c) adequately supported by legitimate sources (such as those mentioned above);
(d) free of grammatical errors, typos, and other stylistic problems.
We will deduct points to the extent that the paper:
(a) neglects key elements of the assignment (deduct 1-4 points);
(b) wanders off topic or lacks coherence (deduct 1-4 points);
(c) fails to use legitimate sources from the course or the internet (deduct 1-4 points);
(d) is marked by lapses in grammar, by typos and misspelled words, or by awkward and unclear writing (deduct 1-3 points).

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