White House Admits Prison Won’t Solve The Drug Problem, But Drug War Grinds On

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April V. Taylor

The Huffington Post is reporting on the recent admission of Michael Botticelli, head of the Obama administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, in which he stated that the government’s new drug control strategy, “rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.  Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder — one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover.”

While the majority of American people already know what Botticelli has admitted, it is still surprising that someone in his position would assert that the war on drugs is, in many ways, a failure.  Nearly three-fourths of the American public believe the policy to be a failure.  The new strategy Bottticelli refers to calls for reforms that would focus the government’s drug control efforts more on treatment rather than on policing and imprisonment.  The strategy also allows for “alternatives to incarceration” that would allow defendants to participate in drug courts and rehabilitation clinics rather than be sent to prison.  In an other surprising move, the strategy also supports needle exchange programs for IV drug users and allocates funding for former prisoners to find work and re-enter their communities.

While the new strategy is welcomed by many, some advocates feel that it is not enough in the face of the militarization of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.  Director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance Bill Piper believes that the excessive force used to combat drug related issues must be more directly addressed and that drug use is still not viewed in a completely accurate light.  Piper states, “Until the drug czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue, no matter what he says.  I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don’t get better.”

Others feel that the strategy does not go far enough as it maintains the government’s previous stance on marijuana prohibition.  With 750,000 people arrested for marijuana related offenses in 2012, which amounts to more than one arrest per minute, prohibition is clearly not the answer.  Prohibition allows for racist policies to be perpetuated as blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than whites.   A report on the strategy does acknowledge that the United States incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world, but many are wondering if the strategy goes far enough in trying to tangibly reduce those numbers.

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