What Are the Key Lessons Learned in the Forty-Year War on Drugs?

January 2015

Drug policy in the United States for the past four decades has focused largely on law enforcement and interdiction to try to reduce supplies of illicit drugs coming into the United States. These efforts have largely failed to curtail drug abuse and addiction. Unintended consequences of this focus include soaring incarceration rates, state budgets that invest more in prisons than in higher education, strained relations with Latin American drug producing countries, and, in terms of overall abuse patterns, a shift in use to domestically produced legal narcotics (such as Vicodin) and stimulants (Ritalin) as well as a recent rise in heroin addiction and overdose deaths. Four states (Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington) and the District of Columbia have fully legalized marijuana in clear violation of Federal law and international treaties. Debate over drug policy is often ideologically driven, and rarely reflects relevant research from various disciplines, such as medicine, education, law, and public health that could shape different, more effective strategies. This is a pivotal period of policy transition both at the state and federal levels. Seminar organizers will produce a clear summary of the evidence emerging from the participants’ discussion of multidisciplinary research to support or refute the assumptions underlying past policies, leading to recommendations for further research illuminating policy choices.



Peter Andreas - Professor in Brown University’s Department of Political Science and Professor of International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies

David T. Courtwright - Presidential Professor at the University of North Florida

Mathea Falco - President of Drug Strategies, Washington DC

Philip Heymann - James Barr Ames Professor of Law and Director of the International Center for Criminal Justice at the Harvard Law School

Keith Humphreys - Professor and the Section Director for Mental Health Policy in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University 

Steven Hyman - Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as well as Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Charles W. Kirkwood - CEO of Shawnee Holding, Inc., a family company involved in energy, property and hospitality businesses

Mark A.R. Kleiman - Professor of Public Policy, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

John Knight - Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Associate Director for Medical Education at the HMS Division on Addictions.  Director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children's Hospital Boston

Glenn Loury - Professor of the Social Sciences at Brown University

Charles A. Nelson III, PhD - Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

Morris Panner - Chief Executive Officer of DICOM Grid

Peter Reuter - Professor in the School of Public Policy and in the Department of Criminology at the University of Maryland

Ana Maria Salazar - Director, Grupo Salazar, a boutique consulting firm supporting companies and governments on improving political strategies and communication skills and opportunities, Mexico City

Patti B. Saris - Federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and Chair, United States Sentencing Commission

Julie Stewart - President and founder of FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums)

Hubert Williams - Past President, Police Foundation

Richard Wright - Professor and Chair of the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University