The Drug Debate: American Mayors Urge "A New Bottom Line" and a Public Health Approach for Drug Policy

Meeting at its annual convention in Los Angeles late last month, the US Conference of Mayors passed an historic resolution putting America's chief elected municipal officials on record urging a fundamental rethinking of the country's drug policies. The mayors called for a public health approach to drug use and abuse and "a new bottom line" in assessing how and whether drug policies reduce harms associated with drugs and society's effort to deal with them.

The US Conference of Mayors represents more than 1,100 mayors of cities with a population over 30,000. The non-partisan group plays a significant role in advocating for and setting national urban policies. Resolutions passed at its conventions become official policy.

The drug policy resolution, "A New Bottom Line in Reducing the Harms of Substance Abuse," was introduced by long-time drug reform advocate Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. It was adopted after debate at the convention.

After a long series of "whereases" in which the resolution recites a now-familiar litany of drug war failures and excesses -- the huge number of drug war prisoners, the lack of spending on drug treatment, the failure of expensive law enforcement programs to affect drug price and availability, differential racial impacts, the ineffectiveness of the drug czar's office, massive marijuana arrests in the face of rising violent crime -- the resolution gets down to business:

"The United States Conference of Mayors believes the war on drugs has failed and calls for a New Bottom Line in US drug policy, a public health approach that concentrates more fully on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse, while ensuring that our policies do not exacerbate these problems or create new social problems of their own; establishes quantifiable, short- and long-term objectives for drug policy; saves taxpayer money; and holds state and federal agencies accountable," the mayors resolved. "US policy should not be measured solely on drug use levels or number of people imprisoned, but rather on the amount of drug-related harm reduced."

The mayors identified a number of specific policy objectives they supported, including:

  • Provide greater access to drug abuse treatment on demand, such as methadone and other maintenance therapies;
  • Eliminate the federal ban on funding sterile syringe access programs;
  • Establish local overdose prevention policies; and
  • Direct a greater percentage of drug-war funding toward evaluating the efficacy and accountability of current programs.

While the mayors did not explicitly call for an end to the drug prohibition regime or even for an end to imprisoning drug users, the resolution identified the large number of drug law offenders behind bars and the racial disparities created by drug law enforcement as examples of "drug-related harm."

"The mayors are clearly signaling the serious need for drug policy reform, an issue that ranks in importance among the most serious issues of the day," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The drug prohibition regime appears increasingly hollow and rotted from within. The resolution adopted last month by the US Conference of Mayors is one more indication that what once was fringe thought is now going mainstream.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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let's hope something + comes of this! :)

b/c it's about hot damn time!

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