(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
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
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
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:
- 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
- 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.
- Public health and the other health professions. They must persuade the
polity of the competence of the proposed public health measures to control the
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
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:
- new information to support policy change,
- a new national drug policy leadership group to supply the necessary
- 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
- Improving the theory and exposition of market interposition,
- Developing testimonials for market interposition,
- Developing the prime mover group,
- Developing the Pacific Drug Policy Institute,
- Developing the national drug policy leadership group,
- Improving media information,
- Developing constituencies for market interposition,
- 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.
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
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.