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Saturday, May 16, 2009

An End to the War on Drugs?

Photo by splifr (CC)

Chris Moody e-mailed me the other day to tip me off to the Cato Institute's coverage of the White House drug czar's decision to stop using the phrase "War on Drugs." Reports the Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

"Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."

Cato Institute scholar Ted Carpenter is correct to give very reserved praise with an important qualification for this change in White House terminology:

Well, that’s at least a modest step in the right direction. However, I want to see how policies change (if they do) under the Obama administration. A change in terminology won’t mean much if the authorities still routinely throw people in jail for violating drug laws.

Given his present record in office, I am skeptical about how much real change we're going to see on drug policy out of President Obama's administration. Arianna Huffington writes:

But when it comes to putting its rhetoric into action, the Obama administration has faltered.

Just a week after the Attorney General said there would be no more medical marijuana raids, the DEA raided a licensed medical marijuana dispensary in California.

Obama's '09-'10 budget proposes to continue the longstanding ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs.

The current budget is still overwhelmingly skewed in favor of the drug war approach -- indeed, it allocates more to drug enforcement and less to prevention than even George Bush did.

And she asks the key question:

So the question becomes: is the Obama administration really committed to a fundamental shift in America's approach to drug policy or is this about serving up a kinder, gentler drug war?

When the Obama Administration decided to recast the Global War on Terror as an Overseas Contingency Operation, I was very opposed to it. The name change hampers our ability to fight the irrationality of the GWOT as a foreign policy by minimizing it and glossing over the magnitude of its cost and destruction.

After making the name less big and scary, the Obama Administration continued to pursue the quite big and truly scary foreign policy of massive overseas military intervention, sending tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan and requesting tens of billions of more dollars from Congress for defense spending.

It looks to me like we can expect the same pattern all over again with the War on Drugs. I certainly hope I'm wrong, but Obama has done too many blatant 180 degree turns on campaign promises to reform U.S. policy. In the meantime, we must remain vigilant and not simply trust that our leaders will do the right thing or suit action to words. We must stay involved and demand that they do so.

And now your Moment of Zen: