In a Guardian/Observer interview (promoting a debate on the topic they are hosting later this month) David Simon (of the Wire) makes a couple of points worth highlighting:
Question: The picture painted in The Wire and The House I Live In is bleak, and people don’t like to look at bleak pictures. How can America turn and face this huge problem?
David Simon: It won’t happen from leadership. There are two things politicians in my country pay attention to. One is money and the other is votes, and the two are inextricably linked in many respects. For a long time the inner city hasn’t voted. In the inner city you have an incredibly disenfranchised American population that understands the burden of the drug war. One of the fundamental ways in which they’ve disconnected is that if you’re convicted of a felony you lose your right to vote for ever. So this is an agenda that has no immediate gain for a politician. That’s why jury nullification and a refusal to co-operate with drug prohibition is going to be a grass roots movement.
So, if Simon is correct, there’s nothing to be gained by way of money or votes, if a politician wants to help his country face up to the real situation about the war on drugs.
There is also this exchange:
Question: Decriminalisation still leaves an international criminal network and distribution business in place. With legalisation there is a basis on which to start unpicking all of that.
David Simon: When I make the distinction for decriminalisation I don’t care about laws any more because the first step will not be to change any laws. And certainly there will not be a sufficient number of politicians with enough courage to legalise drug use. The mistake you’re making is that you’re leading from the rear. You’re having a dilettante’s argument about something that will never be considered by the political infrastructure. Getting them to stop jailing people for this crap is plausible. To start talking about legalising heroin and cocaine, you might as well go to a university and shave your head into a point.
Some thought provoking material there. (He also says, incidentally, that drugs are – effectively – legal in Baltimore because the number of users makes enforcement impossible.)