Logic and the drug war

One of the predictable characteristics of the drug war is how we lurch from danger to danger -- with each substance at some point being described as the most ominous threat to the republic.

From marijuana to heroin, from LSD to cocaine, from crack to ecstasy, from methampetemine to steroids -- each over the past eight decades has taken its trendy turn as the threat du jour.

All the better to justify the billions of dollars this country spends each year on the drug war.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court took a small step toward sanity by ruling that judges can use their discretion when it comes to sentencing guideline disparities between those convicted of crack cocaine offenses and those busted on powdered cocaine charges.

And this week, The Associated Press reports that many experts now admit that the difference between crack and powdered cocaine have been largely exaggerated.

"You had politicians manipulating fear, and instead of being seen as a more direct mode of ingestion of a very old drug, it became a demonic new substance," said Craig Reinarman, a sociology and legal-studies professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, on the panic in the 1980s about crack cocaine.

Added John Steer, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, "The bottom-line conclusion is that for punishment purposes, they should be treated much more similarly than they are now. That's based upon the fact that in the real world, they are not as different overall as was initially thought."

Logic is not a trait normally associated with the country's war on drugs. In this case, though, it appears to have finally made a bit of headway.