Responding to the Obama Administration’s latest national drug control strategy, leading drug policy reform advocates assailed the president for “prioritizing low-level drug arrests” over other policies that even the White House has acknowledged to be more effective in boosting public health and safety.
In an introductory statement (PDF) issued Tuesday, President Barack Obama wrote that his strategy outlines “A Drug Policy for the 21st Century“ that emphasizes addiction treatments over incarceration and life-saving outreach over harsh law enforcement. The White House website even brags about the effectiveness of harm-reduction strategies over mass incarcerations, saying the approach is “grounded in decades of research and scientific study.”
“There is overwhelming evidence that drug prevention and treatment programs achieve meaningful results with significant long-term cost savings,” the Office on National Drug Control Policy claims. “In fact, recent research has shown that each dollar invested in an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18.”
By implementing a drug control strategy that acknowledges the growing body of knowledge on how to mitigate the worst effects of substance abuse, “we will not only strengthen our economy but also sustain the national character and spirit that has made the United States a world leader,” Obama’s statement explains.
“Drug policy under Obama has been strikingly lacking in leadership,” Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told Raw Story on Tuesday. “I was initially optimistic that Gil Kerlikowski, the director [of the ONDCP], would really push things in a new direction. I think there are a few areas where they’ve made positive steps in the right direction… but [they’re] mostly following other agencies, rather than leading.”
The president’s drug control strategy comes just days after Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas asked Obama to consider legalization as a potential cure for the black market violence that plagues so many of their countries. President Obama responded by saying he’s open to a discussion on drug policy, but does not believe legalization is the answer, and the summit ended with Latin leaders wondering what they should do next.
“The chorus of voices calling for a real debate on ending prohibition is growing louder all the time,” Neill Franklin, a former Boston police officer and the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), said in an advisory. “The time for real change is now, but at the Summit of the Americas President Obama announced more than $130 million in aid to fund the continued effort to arrest drug traffickers in Latin America. This prohibition strategy hasn’t worked in the past and it cannot work in the future. Latin American leaders know it, and President Obama must know it.”
“This strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies,” Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the DPA, said in a media advisory. “While the rhetoric is new – reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure – the substance of the actual policies is the same. In reality, the administration is prioritizing low-level drug arrests, trampling on state medical marijuana laws, and expanding supply-side interdiction approaches – while not doing enough to actually reduce the harms of drug addiction and misuse, such as the escalating overdose epidemic.”
“The president sure does talk a good game about treating drugs as a health issue but so far it’s just that: talk,” Franklin concluded. “Instead of continuing to fund the same old ‘drug war’ approaches that are proven not to work, the president needs to put his money where his mouth is.”