Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



The case against prohibition is overwhelming precisely because so many different types of considerations all point to a single solution: the legalization of illicit drugs. The complexity of the case against prohibition means, however, that it cannot be presented adequately by a few anecdotes or even a lengthy essay. Nothing less than a book-length treatment will suffice and, fortunately, that book has been published. America's Longest War is an ambitious effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the policy of prohibition. It accomplishes this by marshalling the empirical research that has been done on both drugs and drug prohibition and then offering persuasive analysis of this data. In this review, the author is able to touch upon only a few evocative highlights.

In part I, the author relates some of the least known and most provocative facts that Duke and Gross report about licit and illicit drugs. In part II, he discusses the origins of drug prohibition. If the merits of drug prohibition are to be questioned seriously, then the many myths about drug use must be challenged-and Duke and Gross have done so effectively. In part ill, the author relates the grave social costs of drug prohibition that Duke and Gross document and adds a few they missed. The harmful consequences discussed in part Ill each reflect the morals of the stories with which he began this review.

In part IV, the author examines the prevailing "public policy" approach to lawmaking that is responsible for the origination and continuation of the drug war and advocate a more principled approach. He makes clear, this is not a critique of public policy analysis, the source of much very useful information. Rather, the author criticizes adherents of a public policy model of decisionmaking that rejects what they refer to as a "simplistic" or "doctrinaire" reliance on general principles or individual rights to decide questions of legal coercion. Instead, they posit that legal coercion is best guided by "public policy experts" who are competent to formulate "rational" solutions to what they abstractly define as "social" problems. The author argues that the evidence presented in America's Longest War is an indictment, not only of the War on Drugs, but also of this method of legal decisionmaking, though Duke and Gross seem not to appreciate fully this important lesson. Although adherence to sound principles does not substitute for the knowledge provided by good public policy analysis, the author explains why the use of legal coercion to pursue worthwhile public policy objectives should be constrained by principles or rights.

Finally, in part V, the author briefly considers alternatives to the current regime of prohibition, including the form of legalization favored by Duke and Gross. Although far preferable to the status quo, he discusses how the principles identified in part IV reveal deficiencies in their proposal.

Publication Citation

103 Yale L.J. 2593-2630 (1994) (reviewing Steven B. Duke & Albert C. Gross, AMERICA'S LONGEST WAR: RETHINKING OUR TRAGIC CRUSADE AGAINST DRUGS (1993))