Principal Tenents of the Conversion Hypothesis

(As of December 1, 1997)

by Donald C. Smart

The purpose of the conversion hypothesis is to identify the quickest and least costly route to adoption of market interposition as public policy. The hypothesis is the rational basis for the allocation of effort.

The hypothesis consists of a set of observations concerning relevant realities and such strategic inferences as can reasonably be drawn from them. Since both relevant realities and reasonable inferences change from time to time, so must the conversion hypothesis. The test of the hypothesis is pragmatic: does it work as a guide to reform effort?

The Political Crisis Premise

Drug control policy in the United States may be approaching political crisis. Among the many evidences of crisis are: mass skepticism regarding the traditional dogmas of the war on drugs; mass disregard for the policy recommendations of the drug-war leadership; recent electoral victories of drug legalization movements in California and Arizona.
The condition of crisis presents both opportunities and perils. In crisis times, people are more willing to entertain alternative policy options such as market interposition. But legalization of drug commerce is at this time the only politically significant alternative to the present prohibition. Thus, the crisis of drug policy raises the danger of the legalization of drug commerce, repeating the error that most states committed in 1932 in regard to alcohol.

The Standard Model Premise (relating to issues politics)

Typically in U.S. politics, neither appointed nor elected public officials introduce policy innovations into the political process. As to appointed officials, the reason is that they are hired to carry out adopted policy, and they cannot risk embarrassing the elected politicians (to whom appointees are responsible) by advocating major policy change.
At the same time, the first concern of elected officials is to be elected, so politicians typically will not risk introducing new ideas that lack the support of known and powerful constituencies. It follows that market interposition is likely to proceed toward adoption following the usual route of issues politics. That is, market interposition must first win the support of predominant constituencies in the drug policy field before winning the endorsements of parties and the support of politicians.

The Organized Constituency Premise

Public policy regarding drugs and crime is influenced by organized constituencies representing interest groups. The introduction of market interposition to the list of available public policy options will result
primarily in a realignment of existing constituencies. Generally, of course, market interposition will attract individuals and groups who perceive their interests to be favorably impacted by control of the drug/crime epidemic. More particularly, most switchers to interposition are likely to be former supporters of drug war, disillusioned by its failure, high cost and social wreckage. Of present legalizationists, interposition is likely to attract: those who would favor prohibition but for its criminogenic effects; and, as to the libertarians, those who would choose interposition as less evil than prohibition.
Criminals involved in illegal drug distribution will have no reason to prefer either legalization or market interposition: Both of these policy options would put illegal drug distributors out of the business. Drug industrialists (both in the United States and in foreign source countries) would have cause to prefer legalization to market interposition: With legalization they would lose large-volume revenue, but they would also be relieved of the heavy burden of super-cost. In contrast, market interposition would rapidly reduce demand for their products.

The Expert Information Premise

Present drug policy is influenced by information made available to the polity by individuals regarded as expert in drug control policy. Change of policy requires change in the information that experts provide to the polity. The new expert information must come from a new national drug policy leadership group made up primarily of leaders from:

  1. Criminal justice. Leaders of the criminal justice intelligentsia must advise the polity that criminal justice measures alone are not appropriate to drug control, that the criminalization of drug use is counterproductive, and that excessive reliance on criminal justice measures inevitably leads to corruption of the criminal justice system and exacerbation of the social pathologies of the drug/crime syndrome.
  2. Economics and the other socials sciences. Social scientists must persuade the polity that prohibition actually stimulates drug commerce and use and promotes crime and gangsterism. They must explain to the polity the mechanism of interposition?s properly workable drug control policy.
  3. Public health and the other health professions. They must persuade the polity of the competence of the proposed public health measures to control the drug/crime epidemic.

The Inertia Premise

Much of the intelligentsia that has special expertise relating to the drug/crime epidemic is also economically dependent upon it. For instance, many individuals in drug prevention, treatment, criminal justice and research are dependent upon government grants or salaries controlled by the existing policy establishment. For fear of antagonizing persons in power, many individuals in such situations will be reluctant to provide information supporting policy change.

The Mass Media Premise

Individual members of constituencies active in the politics of drug policy derive much of their information from the mass media. Similarly, media coverage of drugs and crime influences politicians and bureaucrats as to the public response to drug policy issues. For these reasons, media interpretation of drug and crime news is a causal factor in policy formation, and a condition of policy change is that the media interpreters of news about drugs and crime must be educated in both the social etiology of the drug/crime epidemic and the social dynamics inherent in the alternative policy options.

The Prime Mover Premise

The drug/crime epidemic is a blight on the American body politic It is destructive of our national social welfare. It imposes a burden of extra costs on the U.S. economy. That burden works to disadvantage U.S. business and industry. To remedy these effects, a group of farsighted business and industrial leaders will join together to act as prime movers underwriting the progress of market interposition through the process of policy change.
They will do this in the interest of public and social welfare and to abate the extra costs burdening the economy. The prime mover group will recognize the need for:

  1. new information to support policy change,
  2. a new national drug policy leadership group to supply the necessary information, and
  3. the Pacific Drug Policy Initiative to stimulate the new national drug policy leadership group into existence and guide and coordinate its interdisciplinary work. The prime mover group will make the PDPI their principal instrument for developing the information that will make policy change possible.

The prime mover group will also support the formation of one or more political action committees to write legislation, organize constituencies, conduct political campaigns, lobby politicians and political parties, etc.

The Optional Activity Premise

At every stage in the struggle for market interposition, those involved in the leadership and conduct of the struggle must decide where effort and the available resources can most productively be directed. The optional targets of effort are:

  1. Improving the theory and exposition of market interposition,
  2. Developing testimonials for market interposition,
  3. Developing the prime mover group,
  4. Developing the Pacific Drug Policy Institute,
  5. Developing the national drug policy leadership group,
  6. Improving media information,
  7. Developing constituencies for market interposition,
  8. Coalition-building and higher level political struggle.

Starting at the top and moving down the list of optional activities, accomplishment at any activity level sets the stage for success at higher-numbered activity levels. To put it another way, the resources available to be invested in any activity must be earned and accumulated in lower-numbered activity levels. Increasingly large resources are required to make significant impact on activities 3) through 8). Choice of activity at any time must be dictated both by the resources available to be spent and the resources required to make significant impact.
The media focus of effort is no exception. Occasional media breakthroughs may be possible now, but such breakthroughs are not likely to have sustained effect because of the steady supply of expert misinformation flowing to the constituencies through the rest of the media.
A publisher will reasonably only be willing to publish a book on market interposition when his or her campaign to sell books can be linked to activities that will create a market for the book--specifically, to activities to develop the drug policy leadership group.

The Testimonial Premise

At all stages in the process of policy change, testimonials for market interposition will be important aids to persuasion. They will be essential to winning the support of major and minor grantors.Testimonials can take the form of book jacket blurbs, news releases, magazine and journal articles, letters to the editors of publications, book reviews, and media interviews.
Expert testimonials effectively influence behavior when the audience believes itself to be technically deficient and that the experts have relevant special knowledge.
Testimonials by celebrity experts are likely to be the most powerfully persuasive tools for market interposition because of the power of celebrities to attract attention and because high credence is accorded them as experts.
Harking back to the inertia premise, in the presence of testimonials by celebrity experts, other experts would be less reluctant to provide information and take positions favoring reform. However, celebrity experts (like politicians) lead only when there are followers. Reluctance on both ends of the spectrum of potential testimony givers means that the gathering of testimonials will necessarily be a cyclic and reiterative process.