While Sessions and Leonhart agreed on the precedent failures of drug legalization policies in places such as Alaska, drug policy analysts do not.
“None of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’ — has occurred,” read a 2009 white paper that the Cato Institute released eight years after Portugal decriminalized illegal drugs.
“Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically,” the study found. “Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens — enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.”
Cato and legalization advocates also argued in the lead-up to a vote on Prop 19 that legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana would make a small dent in California’s massive deficit, and perhaps more importantly, drastically reduce law enforcement spending on marijuana enforcement.
“What worries me is that we have seen–after years of stabilization of drug use–a spike,” Leonhart said. “I believe that spike is directly related to all the conversation we are now hearing about the legalization of drugs.”
Sessions, a former U.S. Attorney, praised the “grassroots” anti-drug policies developed under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. “Drug use did go down,” Sessions said. “In 1980, half the high school seniors admitted to using an illegal drug. The numbers went well below 25 a decade later.” Sessions also said that he “hope[s] this administration will send a very clear message on this,” and echoed Leonhart’s argument that legalization efforts — which Sessions called ”being all nice” — were not a valid response to Mexico’s cartel violence.
“The best way we can help the Mexican leadership…is to demolish the gangs in our country who are selling drugs, collecting the money, and taking it back to fund these entities of power and strength,” Sessions said. “Have you given any thought to focusing on the Mexican drug cartels that are the primary distribution network for cocaine in America?”
Leonhart nodded. “A lot of the focus for DEA these days is on Mexico. And now that we have these courageous Mexican partners with President [Felipe] Calderon at the head, we have had great successes in Mexico at breaking the power and impunity of these cartels. But we can do more, and if confirmed, we will continue our partnership and expand, because we are sharing so much more intelligence [with Mexico] and with state and local law enforcement.”