President Obama launched two new major initiatives this week. But WAY too many people are more interested in setting their hair on fire to notice. Yeah, I'm pissed about that. So I'm going to do my small part to focus on what I think is really important.
First of all, the White House issued A Drug Policy for the 21st Century. In doing so, a few of us noticed that this validates what Mark Ambinder predicted almost a year ago...that in his second term, President Obama would pivot to the drug war.
According to ongoing discussions with Obama aides and associates, if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War.Ambinder was right. There are no "miracles" included in what the White House announced this week. I've read the page on the White House web site I linked to above as well as taking a look at the report issued by R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy (pdf). This statement from the web site pretty much sums up my own mixed feelings.
Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn't expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.
While law enforcement will always play a vital role in protecting our communities from drug-related crime and violence, we simply cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. Put simply, an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly. At the other extreme, drug legalization also runs counter to a public health and safety approach to drug policy. The more Americans use drugs, the higher the health, safety, productivity, and criminal justice costs we all have to bear.The bold statement about the "war on drugs" being counterproductive, inefficient, and costly is ground-breaking from a presidential administration. Lets mark this day and remember it! The war that Richard Nixon declared in 1971 has been declared over by the Obama administration.
On the other hand, merely tossing off the other extreme as "legalization" means that there will be little attempt to grapple with some of the hard stuff. To fail to distinguish between the different types of drugs that were caught up in this war and put them all under the same rubric continues the lie that marijuana should be treated the same as heroin or crack cocaine. Its really way past time that we got honest with the American people - especially young people - about all that.
With that said, there are some really positive initiatives that are included in this report...things like focusing on prevention rather than incarceration, expanding access to treatment, support for drug courts, diversion, and re-entry programs, and eliminating the barriers currently in place for people in recovery.
In other words, this is a major step forward towards some sanity in our drug policy. Its not the end game, but its a start. We need to get the word out and get this ball rolling FORWARD!
P.S. Later I'll write a separate piece on the second major initiative President Obama launched this week. Keep your eye out for that one.