The contemporary drug law reform movement holds varying levels of interest for historians of drugs and alcohol. Drugs historians with an interest in modern drug policy are more likely to find would-be reformers relevant as both subjects and audience; for other historians, contemporary reform may simply be of interest as a personal, political cause. This entry in the “Points on Blogs” series takes a look at drug war criticism on the web, of which there’s no shortage! For U.S.-based drug law reform (more on the weird dearth of transnational activism below), readers could certainly begin with the Drug Policy Alliance. Founder and director Ethan Nadelmann (author of some very historically-informed works of scholarship) has overseen the development of a DPA site that is content-rich and user friendly. The DPA hosts an online resource library (the Lindesmith Library, named for early drug war critic and sociologist Alfred Lindesmith) with more than 15,000 documents and videos. As for bloggers, drug war reformers would do well to consider Pete Guither’s blog Drug WarRant, or StoptheDrugWar.org (especially the Speakeasy blog). For today, however, I’ll focus on another blog: Sterling on Justice and Drugs.
Sterling is Eric Sterling, who clearly knows a thing or two about justice and drugs. For historians of recent U.S. drug policy, he’s an historical actor in his own right–as Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for ten years, he helped the Subcommittee on Crime develop the now-notorious Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988. Almost immediately thereafter, Sterling became active in reform circles. He serves as President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (and Sterling on Justice and Drugs is, effectively, the blog of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation).
As with many sole-authored blogs, Sterling on Justice and Drugs has ebbs and flows of content. 2009 and 2010 were particularly active years for posting, while this year’s output is more modest. As such, it probably merits the occassional check-in for Points readers. Those who do will find a good deal of detailed reporting and commentary on current events. The most recent post, for example, provides outstanding coverage of the recent decision by the NYPD to stop its aggressive program of marijuana possession arrests, often precipitated by police orders for citizens to empty their pockets when stopped. Sterling includes a link to a powerful memorandum from sociologist Harry G. Levine; this figure and table from Levine’s memo speak volumes about change (and continuity) in NYC:
For users, Sterling’s blog isn’t quite as easy to use as one might like. Without a helpful tagging system, the archives aren’t really accessible (one could simply choose to read back through the posts). Perhaps drug law reform is so “of the moment” that no one needs a guide to past work; Points readers can simply check in periodically to see what’s literally new.
The only other quibble with Sterling’s blog is that it is pretty relentlessly U.S.-focused. Let me be clear–the blog actually has a fair amount of interesting coverage of global drug problems (and American foreign policy/drug policy), like this short piece on Jamaican gangs, or this longer-form commentary on Mexico and Colombia. But when it comes to reform, the coverage tends to end at the borders of the U.S. So, where is the coverage of drug law reform movements around the globe? Most of the sites mentioned in this post have episodic coverage of global reform and activism, but I’d welcome reader suggestions for locating even more comprehensive web coverage.
Joe Spillane is Professor of History at the University of Florida. He has authored Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States (Johns Hopkins Press, 2000) and co-edited Federal Drug Control: The Evolution of Policy and Practice (Haworth Press, 2004). More recently, he authored Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014). His current drug-related research agenda includes: the history and development of drug abuse liability assessment; reflections on the nature of drug epidemics; and examinations of drug war “harms” in historical context.