War is an awful thing. Yet, to show they are serious, politicians constantly use the “war” analogy. A “war on poverty.” An “energy war.” The “drug war.”
Yet militarizing these and other issues is precisely the wrong way to deal with them. So it is with the drug war, which has come most to resemble a real war. Indeed, more Mexicans have been dying in their “drug war” than Americans have been dying in Iraq.
It’s time to call a truce. Writes Sherwood Ross:
Gil Kerlikowske, Obama’s new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has renounced even the use of the phrase “War on Drugs” on grounds it favors incarceration of offenders rather than treatment. But talk is no substitute for action.
To his credit, Obama has long appeared to be open to a fresh approach. In an address at Howard University on Sept. 28, 2007, then Sen. Obama said, “I think it’s time we took a hard look at the wisdom of locking up some first time nonviolent drug users for decades.”
“We will give first-time, non-violent drug offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior,” he added. “So let’s reform this system. Let’s do what’s smart. Let’s do what’s just.”
And as prison overcrowding worsens and governors currently whine they can’t balance budgets, the public might get some real relief.
Last year, more than 700,000 of the country’s 20-million pot smokers were arrested for marijuana possession, according to NORML, an advocacy lobby that works for decriminalization. Over the past decade, 5-million folks got arrested on marijuana charges, 90% of which were for “simple possession, not trafficking or sale,” NORML says.
“Regardless of whether one is a ‘drug warrior’ or a ‘drug legalizer,” writes Bob Barr in the May 25 Atlanta Journal Constitution, “it is difficult if not impossible to defend the 38-year old war on drugs as a success.”
Drug abuse is a serious social problem. But so is alcoholism. And many other social (mis)behaviors. We should start treating it as a social, health, and moral problem, not as a matter for the criminal law.
President Obama: End this war!