Ending the ‘war on drugs’

ENDING THE ‘WAR ON DRUGS’…. We’ve already seen some encouraging steps from the Obama administration when it comes to drug policy, including an effort to bring some sanity to the vast sentencing disparities between possession of powdered cocaine and rock cocaine. Obama’s team has also stopped targeting medical marijuana patients and caregivers, and the president even repealed a ban on publicly-funded needle-exchange programs.

It’s all part of a fundamentally different approach to the issue. A year ago this week, Gil Kerlikowske, the president’s new head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he intended to do away with the “war on drugs” — not only rhetorically, but also replacing the entire approach of the last few decades.

We’re getting a better sense of what the old approach will be replaced with: a far better policy.

The White House is putting more resources into drug prevention and treatment, part of President Barack Obama’s pledge to treat illegal drug use more as a public health issue than a criminal justice problem.

The new drug control strategy to be released Tuesday boosts community-based anti-drug programs, encourages health care providers to screen for drug problems before addiction sets in and expands treatment beyond specialty centers to mainstream health care facilities.

Kerlikowske told the AP, “It changes the whole discussion about ending the war on drugs and recognizes that we have a responsibility to reduce our own drug use in this country.”

The change is long overdue, and it’s most welcome.

This has always seemed like a common-sense shift in emphasis. For all the “get tough” bravado, decades of fighting a “war on drugs” were unsuccessful — costing too much, doing too little, incarcerating too many. Obama, to his credit, is choosing a more sensible path forward, and his administration is considering the issue as more of a public health issue, instead of a criminal matter.

Better yet, this substantive shift hasn’t generated much of a political backlash, at least not yet. Traditionally, reasonable politicians have stayed away from reasonable drug policies for fear of being labeled “weak” or “soft on crime.” The White House is pursuing a more sensible course, and to date, hasn’t drawn much in the way of criticism at all.

Are the ineffective “war on drugs” policies so hopeless that even congressional Republicans will no longer support them?

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.