Ending the War on Drugs

In the sixties one of the suggested exist strategies for the War in Vietnam was "to declare victory and get out." Alas, it was the road not taken, increasing the length and depth of the tragedy for all concerned. For the War on Drugs, there is an even simpler solution: stop calling it a war. According to Obama's drug chief, that's the attitude of his administration and it's about time:

President Barack Obama’s plan to fight drug abuse and trafficking proposes spending $15.5 billion next year and shifting the emphasis from fighting a war on drugs to treating the problem as a national health issue, the administration’s top drug-policy adviser said in an interview.

“It’s a disease, it’s diagnosable and it’s certainly something that can be treated -- but it’s not a war,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The president’s plan calls for increasing drug-control spending by 3.5 percent in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. It aims to reduce drug use among American youth by 15 percent over five years, and to make similar reductions in chronic drug use, deaths from drug use, and driving under the influence of illicit substances. (Peter Green, Bloomberg News)

By criminalizing use of opiates we have also denied their rational use to people with chronic pain. Not to mention criminalizing behavior like pot use which is certainly no worse than alcohol. If we could decriminalize these things than that would also undercut organized crime, a major part of the "drug problem." They may be the alleged targets of the "war on drugs" but it is mainly foot soldiers and innocent civilians that are the collateral damage.

Addictions aren't harmless. If their use doesn't have medical benefits like pain relief and is only for recreation or use as a coping mechanism for other problems then they can be serious. Addiction is a public health problem, like alcoholism or smoking and should be addressed in that way. Kudos to the Obama administration for not only recognizing this but proposing to do something about it:

The administration proposes spending $1.7 billion, up 13.4 percent from this year, to increase prevention efforts, including mentoring programs for schoolchildren.

“If you start early” presenting children with drug- prevention messages, “that’s been proven to be effective, and that’s where we want to go with this,” Kerlikowske said.

An increase of 3.7 percent in treatment funds, to $3.9 billion, includes a new emphasis on training primary care physicians to identify and help treat addiction before it becomes chronic. The funding request is part of Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget.

“If you are able to do an intervention with somebody on drugs early, it saves money -- treatment is about half the cost of incarceration,” said Kerlikowske. “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem.” (Bloomberg)

That said, there is a lot of work to be done to undo the "war" footing that we have been hoodwinked into accepting. The decriminalization of pot is already starting but it isn't going fast enough. There should also be a rational approach to the appropriate use of drugs for chronic pain. They are medically indicated more often than prescribed, but doctors are too nervous about becoming even more collateral damage in the phony war on drugs.

I am sure there will be push back from the hardnosed hard right. They not only want to be tough on crime, they also want everyone to accept what they think is a crime. Like abortion.

And of course drug use. While they drink a toast to prohibition.


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In theory, you should be able to recruit the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, despite the ostensibly "personal freedom" rhetoric of the Tea Party, I doubt many of them are genuinely liberal on social issues.

At long last America is coming to the conclusion that a 40 year war on drugs, paid for by American taxpayers, is no closer to being won; and that war - like prohibition - has delivered vast amounts of money to criminals.
With clever moves like this Obama is showing it's still possible to improve the country in spite of Bush putting it in hock to record levels... I hope Cameron can do similar here in the UK.

Libertarians are all talk except on tax issues. They'll stick their necks out for tax breasks that serve the wealthy, but only offer lipservice for everything else.

Evidence-based public policy? How refreshing!

Good piece of opinion. Cheers!

Maybe not a "War on Drugs," but still there has to be some kind of "action" against "Drug Traffickers."

This should be the real reason we strengthen the borders. Keep drug traffickers out, interdict those who get in, and treat them as if they are criminals, not catch and release trophies.

@Neil: Two of the best ways to reduce drug trafficking are legalization and drug abuse prevention. The first puts the traffickers in competition with legal sources: note that bootlegging is no longer much of a problem. The second attempts to reduce the market opportunity. Reduce the market opportunity and you change the risk/reward tradeoff for traffickers.

At long last America is coming to the conclusion that a 40 year war on drugs, paid for by American taxpayers, is no closer to being won; and that war - like prohibition - has delivered vast amounts of money to criminals.

Well... let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Obama admin is making sense. That doesn't mean the rest of America will be on board. We are still by and large an ignorant, fearful nation. If "America" really recognized the stupidity of the 40 year war on drugs... we'd simply end it. Despite this new policy I don't see that happening anytime soon. And doubtful even in my lifetime. Sad.

If "America" really recognized the stupidity of the 40 year war on drugs... we'd simply end it. Despite this new policy I don't see that happening anytime soon. And doubtful even in my lifetime. Sad.

Polls suggest otherwise, that there really isn't that much depth of support among the general public. The real obstacle is the enormous money spigot the "War on Drugs" represents, and the number of federal agencies that have come to depend on it for a large chunk of their funding, and the local police departments that have been made dependent on civil forfeiture to finance themselves, and the corrections officer's unions that have swelled in ranks with the unprecedented volume of incarcerations, and covert agencies that want cover for "black" funds transfers.

If history (specifically the end of Prohibition) is any guide, rather then attempt to strangle such a hydra the government is likely to whip up some brand-new panic to fill the void left by the "War on Drugs".

What a great step forward! Brief intervention in medical settings and early intervention in schools are cheap and easy and effective compared to the huge costs (in money, morbidity and mortality) of addictions later in life. A very good starting point.

By Dr Denise (not verified) on 12 May 2010 #permalink

In an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Daniel Okrent, the author of "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" pointed out that after the end of Prohibition, alcohol consumption actually went down for several reasons. It was only available during certain times and on certain days, not 24/7, as it had been during Prohibition. It was only available to "adults" instead of anyone willing to pay. And the cachet provided by illegality was gone.

I like what I hear about an alternative to declaring "war" (be very frightened) on drug use but am less pleased by what I see. Incremental increases in spending for interdiction and persec prosecution echo the current administration's casual acceptance of (tacit insistence for?) traits of a previous administration.

Still, there is a groundswell for an overhaul of this country's brain dead drug use philosophy. There is also a financial motivation in these days of troubled days. Expect incremental change punctuated by outrage.

I hope that one of these days, when I drop by a friend's house for just a couple of minutes, that I am not putting both he and I in jeopardy. How relaxing that would be. I'm trying to imagine how that would make me stop killing and raping and taking other people's stuff. Not to mention being a drag on society.

By Crudely Wrott (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Darn revere, I missed this one, however, thank you for putting this in.

If you want more truth about the drug war you'd do well to visit http://www.drugwarrant.com/

And there's an excellent book out, Marijuana is Safer So Why Are We Driving people to drink?

Wish I could say more but I've been drinking alcohol this evening due to chronic pain. Would much rather smoke a joint that has been proven to reduce inflammation.

Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of incompetence, corruption and human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

By its very nature, prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model - the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

Many of us have now, finally, wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco, clearly two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection then maybe you're using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody 'halfway bright', and who's not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem, it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer, only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

"A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."
Abraham Lincoln

The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation while turning even our schools and prisons into black markets for drugs. Regulation would mean the opposite!

By malcolm kyle (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

With you all the way malcolm kyle, thank you for putting into words what I seem incapable of doing. Mine tends to be an emotional reaction for the most part because I've followed the destruction of this war on drugs for many, many years.

There's a sickening silence here from commenter's too. Perhaps a paranoid one, or the famous "I have too much to lose, but hey I support you and your efforts."

What will push your button? Is it the vast amount of your money that the g'ment uses to fight a proven failed policy? Is it the deaths in the thousands in Mexico, "And, of course, the killings continue in their relentless pace, with 7 bodies discovered in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua one of whom was a minor (this occurred despite the presence of over 5 thousand soldiers, 2600 federal police and another 3000 local police, a combined enforcement effort of nearly 11,000.) I hope President Obama reflects on this as he continues on the worn-out path laid down for him by his predecessors, meeting force with force is just not working, it's like punching water. Nuevo León saw 5 more killings, while Chihuahua saw 3 more, Michoacán 2 and another in Sinaloa.
This brings the total to date to 3870 (4870) with the additional of 24 yesterday. For those of you wondering, this leaves the average, per day killing rate for 2010 at 29 (38)... more than one per hour now."

Or perhaps the rampant use of SWAT teams, the one that got a huge amount of rage was in Columbia, Missouri? They shot his dog, terrorized his young child and wife, found residue in a pipe and fined the guy 300 dollars. Goggle it and prepare yourself for a sick feeling in your stomach.

Or is it the 79 year old woman in Polk County in critical condition after suffering a heart attack when drug agents swarmed the wrong house?

The absolutely good people who have fought against Prohibition are regaining steam, and when Prohibition is finally over I can honestly say I don't want to know you because you did NOTHING to end one of the worst and most horrific policies brought on the American people.

Oh wait, maybe this one will get you. Prohibition was started by Henry Anslinger because he hated Mexicans, and he said white women would have sex with black men.

This web page is a short history of illegalization of marijuana in California and its impact on the justice system. The Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California

The before mentioned web page came from the website California NORML which is a site made up of people dedicated to reforming Californiaâs marijuana laws â there are links on this first page you will arrive at with additional links to the different initiatives that have made their way onto the ballots as well as other interesting tidbits.

It always seems that once you make a war on something you seem to make it grow even more. I'm at a loss why it is okay to get the drug from your medical doctor, but not your local street vendor.
If you are going to make it illegal then get rid of the adderal, prozac, etc. as well. They are all drugs.