A wide-ranging critique of anti-drug policies that focuses on the ""shadow agendas"" behind ""politically obligatory 'get...


THE RETURN OF THE DANGEROUS CLASSES: Drug Prohibition and Policy Politics

A wide-ranging critique of anti-drug policies that focuses on the ""shadow agendas"" behind ""politically obligatory 'get tough' postures."" Though Gordon (Political Science/City College, CUNY) could use some journalistic detail to animate her academic style, she makes some important basic points, noting that we blame drugs for larger social problems and often ignore the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco. She offers capsule case histories of the development of recent policies: the federal death penalty for drug kingpins; Michigan's mandatory sentencing for possession of small amounts of drugs; Alaska's 1990 referendum to recriminalize marijuana possession; the decision in tax-wary Kansas City, Mo., to impose a sales tax to fund the local battle against drugs; Seattle's ordinance to prohibit ""drug traffic loitering."" Examining those actions, she suggests that they do less to fight drugs than to control ""dangerous classes,"" including minorities, youths, aliens, and even the liberals who welcomed the Warren Court's due process decisions. She also points out how politicians harness the drug issue to obtain visibility and power, and how local governments seeking revenue and merchants seeking safe streets gain from stringent drug policies. Most valuable is her analysis of ""drugspeak,"" the dishonest language that suggests, for example, that drugs are a ""ubiquitous and undifferentiated threat."" Looking at Europe, Gordon finds policies that are based less than ours on the need to blame individual pathology or immorality. While she doesn't support legalization of drugs beyond marijuana, Gordon proposes a Netherlands-style ""de-escalation of prohibition"" and suggests that we must aim for responsible drug use rather than abstinence. Gordon's analysis lacks the depth and inner-city insights of Elliot Currie's Reckoning (1993). Still, she helps us understand much of the posturing that passes for drug policy rhetoric.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 1994


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994