As a student of criminal and drug policy, I initially assumed that a public policy book 2 decades old would have to be digested with a generous shake of salt, and that obsolete statistics and public realities would have to enter my brain with asterisks attached. My impressions could not have been more misleading.
Against Excess is not just a political handbook or a legislative agenda frozen in time. Rather, it approaches the debate around drug policy from first premises, starting with the principal goals of drug policy, its conflicting aims, and the levers by which these ends are accomplished. Although Kleiman is consistently witty, lucid, and replete with detail, the book manages to be very readable and accessible. The beginner to drug policy receives a fine introduction to the study, in which the principles are articulated before the evidence is introduced. The expert of the field will gain mental clarification of the field's moral underpinning, pitfalls and complications.
Once the theory and proper context has been developed, Kleiman applies these frameworks to drug policy's five biggest subjects: alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and tobacco. As Kleiman points out, each drug deserves a different approach, based on unique pharmacological, market, and cultural profiles. Kleiman doesn't relent from applying simple principles and clear logic to each situation, generating coherent and optimized policy goals for each.
One example of a principle illustrated: drug policy involves both intentional and unintentional harms. Unintentional harms include the violence from drug markets and the damage done to recalcitrant drug abusers by criminalizing their habits. Intentional harms include punishing drug users, making their habits more expensive, and generally making the life of a drug abuser difficult enough to deter the lifestyle. One of the key challenges to drug policy, then, is to use intentional harms effectively as to maximize their desired effects while minimizing unintended harms, with the understanding that they can never be eliminated.
In that spirit, accepting the fundamental difficulties of the field and tactically working around them, a much-needed and effective vision for drug policy is presented.