In the wake of marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, the University of Oregon School of Law recently hosted an all-day interdisciplinary symposium--A Step Forward: Creating a Just Drug Policy for the United States. Many legislators attended; and there was a feeling among the participants that Oregon could well be the next state to take similar action.

I was one of the speakers; and the entire 4/19/13 symposium is available online in six panel-by-panel videos. My presentation is in the middle of the 4/19/13 Panel IV video

The speakers and some others who could not attend prepared articles for a dedicated issue of the Oregon Law Review; and my article is Rethinking Assumptions about Drug Addiction and Treatment.

My article challenges a number of assumptions, and offers alternatives, as can be seen in the following list of topics it discusses:

I. Drugs Hook Victims versus Miserable People Self-Medicate

II. Drugs Are Inherently Dangerous versus Many Factors Affect the Dangerousness of Drugs

III. The Gateway Drug Fallacy

IV. Drugs Cause Crime versus Criminals Use Illegal Substances

V. Punishment and Mandatory Treatment versus Reintegration into Society and Voluntary Treatment

VI. Marginalizing All Users versus Integrating Problem Users

VII. Compulsory Treatment versus Voluntary Treatment

My article concludes that:

By replacing the inaccurate assumptions and causal models underlying the War on Drugs, we are left with better alternatives which point to a different way of understanding drug use and abuse, and to different drug policy options. These alternatives include:

(1) Differentiating between problem users, who should be offered help, and non-problem users, who should be left alone;

(2) Shifting from a policy of punishing and marginalizing problem users to one of harm reduction and attempting to reintegrate them into society;

(3) Shifting from a policy of compulsory treatment to one of voluntary treatment;

(4) Recognizing that many (but not all) problem users can become occasional, non-problem users—abstention need not be the only acceptable treatment outcome; and

(5) Shifting from a near-exclusive treatment focus on the substance itself to building on positive aspects of people’s lives, such as work, family, friends, activities, and interests.


Here are links to some related Psychology Today pieces of mine:

a. that deal with public health policies relevant to marijuana legalization;

b. that deal with marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, and in Uruguay;

c. that discuss ending the global War on Drugs;

d. and that challenge assumptions underlying the War on Drugs (in addition to some of the assumptions referred to above).

For those who are interested, here are three works that discuss a wide range of drug policy options that go beyond the discussion in my article:

1. Fish, J. M. (Ed.) (1998). How to Legalize Drugs. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. ISBN: 0-7657-0151-0

2. Fish, J. M. (Ed.) (2000). Is Our Drug Policy Effective? Are There Alternatives? New York City, NY: Fordham Urban Law Journal. (Proceedings of the March 17 & 18, 2000 joint conference of the New York Academy of Sciences, New York Academy of Medicine, and Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 3-262.)

3. Fish, J. M. (Ed.) (2006). Drugs and Society: U.S. Public Policy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN: 0-7425-4244-0 (cloth); ISBN: 0-7425-4245-9 (paperback).

Image source:

Map of Oregon from the Perry-Castañeda Library


Check out my most recent book, The Myth of Race, which debunks common misconceptions, as well as my other books at http://amazon.com/Jefferson-M.-Fish/e/B001H6NFUI

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About the Author

Jefferson M. Fish Ph.D.

Jefferson M. Fish, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of psychology at St. John's University. He has authored and edited 12 books, including The Myth of Race.

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