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Maine Police Chief Wants Cocaine Misdemeanors to Be Felonies

Portland, Maine, Police Chief James Craig is pushing to increase some crack and powder cocaine offenses from misdemeanors to felonies, but he isn't exactly receiving a warm reception from lawmakers concerned about prison overcrowding. He told the Portland Press Herald Tuesday that he plans to meet with other police chiefs, prosecutors, and legislators to plot his brave push backward into the 20th Century.

Looking Backwards: Portland Police Chief James Craig
Under Maine law, first time possession of up to four grams of crack and 14 grams of powder cocaine is a misdemeanor. A second offense is a felony, as is possession of more than those amounts.

"Crack cocaine breeds violence," Craig said. "Crack cocaine will destroy this community if we don't stay ahead of it."

He cited recent incidents in the city that he attributed to cocaine users. He said three home invasions, three robberies, and a stabbing in a recent one-week period were committed by coked-out individuals.

Rep. Anne Haskell (D-Portland), co-chair of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, told the Press Herald she would listen to Craig's proposal, but expressed concern about costs.

"I'd be glad to have a conversation with Chief Craig and take a look at the kinds of things he's seeing. He's the person on the ground," she said. "If what he's seeing out there is what's happening, then folks ought to be held accountable, but we would have to find the money to do that," she said.

But Sen. Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick), the committee's senate chair, was more wary. "We're not going to start enhancing some of these crimes to fill up our prisons more than we have now," he said. "The legislature was very good at enhancing crimes and the time served, and we got ourselves in a pretty good mess."

Times have changed when cops looking for longer sentences for drug users are met by skepticism in the legislature.

Portland, ME
United States

Despite Decrim, California Marijuana Possession Busts Abound [FEATURE]

According to figures from the California Criminal Justice Statistics Center, more than 550,000 people were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in the Golden State between 1999 and 2009. Last year, 61,164 people were charged with pot possession, down slightly from 2008's record 61,388.

The number of small-time pot arrests hovered at around 50,000 a year for most of the decade. But in 2007, it jumped to just under 60,000, and crossed that threshold in 2008.

That could change this year, though. A bill, SB 1449, approved by the state legislature last week would change the misdemeanor to a civil infraction. It awaits action on Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk. The Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative would allow people 21 or over to possess up to an ounce without fear of arrest and grow up to 25 square feet. It goes before the voters on November 2.

That wouldn't be a minute too soon, for some.  "It's morally offensive that in a state like California, where a majority of Californians favor outright legalization and where as far back as 1977 they thought they had it decriminalized, the law enforcement community continues to ignore the will of the citizens of the state," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"This is just another example of why we need to end marijuana prohibition and why we hope California voters will pass Proposition 19 this November," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We're criminalizing people and turning their lives upside down simply for using a substance that's safer than alcohol. It's also a huge misallocation of law enforcement resources. Even if they're not going to jail, these busts are still taking up police officers' time and clogging up the court system. This is all the more reason I hope voters really flock to the polls in November."

Under California law, possession of up to an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable only by a maximum $100 fine for a first offense. But because it is a misdemeanor -- not a civil infraction -- you can be arrested, and each offense requires a court appearance, leading to costs for the criminal justice system, as well as costs and a criminal record -- at least temporarily -- for the arrestee.

"People are usually cited and released, but they could be arrested," said Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol-based marijuana defense attorney. "The law says they can be arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and they will be if they don't have satisfactory proof of ID or if they ask to go before a judge."

It varies from locality to locality, Figueroa said. "In Berkeley, they try to process them in traffic court, even though it's technically a misdemeanor. A lot depends on the cop's discretion."

People charged with a misdemeanor have the right to counsel and the right to a jury trial. Ironically, both Figueroa and Dale Gieringer, longtime head of California NORML, said that exercising that right to trial could result in the charges being dropped.

"Some people have demanded jury trials," noted Gieringer, "and when you do that, you almost always find the charges getting dropped, because when the worst outcome is a $100 fine, it just isn't worth it."

"With the maximum sentence being a $100 fine, the system doesn't want to put out that much energy in picking a jury," said Figueroa, but don't count on it. "My first jury trial was pot possession misdemeanor in Los Angeles County. But if you're in San Francisco or Alameda County and you insist on your right to a jury trial, it will probably be dismissed."

Pleading guilty means a criminal record and all that entails, including collateral consequences like loss of access to public housing, but only for two years. Then, if you've managed to stay out of trouble, the conviction is expunged. But some judges push minor pot offenders into treatment, said Gieringer.

"Many judges railroad the defendants into not taking the misdemeanor plea, but instead doing a drug program, the advantage of which is that you have no conviction at all, but it's very expensive and time consuming," he said. 

Even having to show up for a court appearance can be burdensome, Gieringer said. "I know one UCLA student who had to go to Arcata [600 miles away] for a court appearance. It's also an inconvenience for the court. It's got to cost well over $100 for the state to assemble all the manpower for a pot misdemeanor hearing, and with 60,000 cases, that's $6 million wasted right there."

"It would be good to see that decrim bill signed into law or Prop 19 pass," said Stroup. "Or both," he laughed.

"Back when we did the decrim bill in the 1976, the district attorneys said it had to remain a criminal offense," said Gieringer. "The bill now pending would abolish that status. If Schwarzenegger can't sign this current decrim bill, there is something really sick in California politics." Gieringer laughed ruefully, adding, "Of course, we know there is something really sick in California politics."

"This same decriminalization proposal was defeated here three times in the past," said Gieringer. "I think its passage this year is an indication that you can get lawmakers to reduce penalties as a cost-cutting measure. The reason it passed this time was the budget crisis -- even the prosecutors and the courts supported the bill on the grounds of cutting costs."

That's just misdemeanor pot possession. An additional 135,000 people have been arrested on felony marijuana cultivation or distribution charges in the past decade. For all drug felonies, that figure rises to 1.4 million over the past decade.

An additional 850,000 arrests were made for non-marijuana drug misdemeanors. These are typically possession of personal use amounts of hashish, non-opiate prescription medications, and similar drugs on Schedules III, IV, and V of the state drug law, which can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors. Figueroa called such charges "wobblers," since they can be charged either way.

While last year's 78,514 marijuana arrests (felonies and misdemeanors) is an all-time high, arrests for other drug offenses are declining. Narcotics (heroin and cocaine) felony arrests peaked at more than 56,000 in 2007, but declined to just under 44,000 last year, while dangerous drug felony arrests have declined by half since peaking at nearly 93,000 in 2005.

The huge number of drug arrests in general and marijuana arrests in particular come as the state is experiencing its lowest crime levels in three decades and a skyrocketing criminal justice system budget. In 1968, total criminal justice system (law enforcement, corrections, courts, prosecutors, public defenders) were at about $100 million, by 1984, when crime rates had already begun falling, the criminal justice budget was at about $5 billion. Last year, it was about $33 billion, mostly for police ($17 billion) and prisons ($15 billion).

Passage of Prop 19 or the signing of the decriminalization bill could begin to rein in the California criminal justice juggernaut, but that would just be a start. Still, you have to start somewhere. Real decrim would be good, but if California votes for legalization, it will be a political earthquake.

United States

Weird Drug Politics in the Kentucky Senate Campaign [FEATURE]

Drug policy has become a hot-button issue in the Kentucky US Senate race, albeit in a weird and tangential way. The race pits insurgent tea party/libertarian Republican Rand Paul, the son of anti-prohibitionist US Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), against Democrat Jack Conway, the Kentucky attorney general.

Rand Paul campaigning in Frankfort, KY (courtesy Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia)
Neither candidate even mentions drug policy on their campaign web sites, but remarks by Paul earlier this month that he opposed federal earmarks such as those that fund the anti-drug task force Operation UNITE and drug treatment programs, and that drug policy was not a "pressing issue" for Kentucky voters have reverberated across the Bluegrass State.

"I don't think it's a pressing issue," Paul said in response to a query from the Associated Press about his opposition to federal earmarks for drug law enforcement. He suggested that eastern Kentucky voters are more concerned with fiscal and cultural issues. "They're socially conservative out there," Rand said. "Jack's not. They're fiscally conservative. I am. Jack's not. I think we'll swamp him."

Paul's comments left an opening for Conway, who is trailing by about eight points in the most recent polls, to go on the attack. And the back and forth between the two campaigns has kept the drug issue in the spotlight since mid-August.

"Rand will handcuff local sheriffs trying to combat the drug epidemic, and I will make sure Kentucky's law enforcement has the tools they need to protect our families," Conway said. "That's my record as attorney general, and that's what I'll do in Washington."

Conway said that Kentucky, which is suffering from budget cuts, can't take on drug traffickers without federal help. Paul countered that that federal involvement is justified only when drugs are crossing state or federal borders.

Conway and his supporters have frequently resorted to describing drug use in Appalachian Kentucky, known as a marijuana growing hotbed and the home of numerous pill-poppers and meth cooks, as an "epidemic," and the conventional wisdom in Kentucky is that the area is rife with drug abuse.

But the conventional wisdom doesn't match up with the numbers. According to a recent report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, drug use levels in eastern Kentucky are in line with those in the rest of the state and the rest of the country. The "epidemic," in other words, is a politically convenient figment of the collective imagination.

But that doesn't stop either campaign from bemoaning it. After an initial round of attacks from Conway and his supporters on the drug issue, Paul made a point of showing up at a privately-funded drug treatment center to insist that he does care about "the drug problem."

"It's been recently insinuated that somehow I don't care about the drug problem in Kentucky, and that's absolutely wrong," Paul said last week. He accused Conway of "pandering" on the drug issue.

The back and forth continued this week, with the Paul campaign accusing Conway of not doing enough to combat methamphetamine production as attorney general and the Conway campaign bringing out sheriffs to attack Rand for undercutting their drug war.

But for all the blows thrown around the drug issue, Paul's attack on federal funding for drug task forces and drug treatment does not appear to be part of an anti-prohibitionist assault on drug war orthodoxy -- Paul does not call for ending marijuana prohibition or drug prohibition in general. Instead, it is part and parcel of his anti-federal spending campaign message.

And while Paul supported medical marijuana in the primary campaign, he has gone a bit squishy on the issue since then. In August, the AP ran a story saying that "he said he opposed the legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes." The campaign didn't deny or confirm that report for more than a week, until asked directly about it by Mike Meno of the Marijuana Policy Project. Campaign staffers then told Meno Paul was standing by his states' rights position on the issue, but refused to say whether Paul personally supported medical marijuana.

"His big campaign message is to cut back on the size of the federal government, get the deficit under control, and he's been heavy-handed in going after earmarks like Operation UNITE, and those are very important in this state," said University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck. "So some of the sheriffs and mid-level political people, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, are not happy with what Paul's been saying about that. I don't know that these folks were likely to support him in the first place, but I've seen even some Republican county executives who seem appalled he's taking this position," she said.

"Part of Paul's strategy is to try to make Conway look like just another robot for Pelosi and Obama," said Rhodebeck. "Conway has to latch onto some issues, and the drug issue presented itself as something he can run with. I think it's a reasonable strategy for him to pursue this."

"Those federal task forces are just another way to waste money on an utterly failed strategy," said Ted Galen Carpenter, an analyst with the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, who agreed with Paul's attack on Operation UNITE. "If we want to spend money studying a way out of prohibition, that's one thing, but I wouldn't favor spending another dollar to enforce our idiotic drug laws."

Still, Carpenter took Paul to task for saying drug policy was not "a pressing issue" for Kentucky voters. "This most certainly is a pressing issue," he said. "Aside from the continuous civil liberties issues, people in Kentucky should be just as concerned as most of the rest of the country about that conflagration we have going on across our southern border. As long as the US maintains its prohibitionist policies, we are giving billions of dollars to the Mexican cartels, and that's dangerously unwise. One wonders whether Rand Paul has taken a look at what's happening in Mexico."

The emergence of the drug issue in Kentucky and especially the critique from a Republican candidate suggests that it is an issue that can prove useful to either party, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. But if Republicans want to make drug reform an issue, they have to be more coherent than Paul, he said.

"That Rand Paul is stepping out on drug policy reform and his opponent attacking him for it shows that reformers shouldn't take for granted that the Democrats are the party of reform," said Piper. "There was also a Republican drug reformer in the primary against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and a Republican running against Barney Frank has said some things, so you have a legalizer Republican versus a legalizer Barney Frank."

But while Republicans are increasingly challenging the drug policy status quo, they don't know how to reach voters on the issue, Piper said. "Rand Paul doesn't know how to talk about this," he said. "He's talking about this in the context of taxes and spending, but as much as voters dislike taxes and spending, they've always made an exception for the drug war. He needs to be talking about how drug reform reduces the harms of drugs and keeps families safer."

Paul could take a lesson from another libertarian-leaning Republican, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Piper said. "Gary Johnson got beaten up savagely before he learned how to frame it," he recalled. "Johnson still talks about freedom, but now he does a lot to reassure the listener that he cares about the problems associated with drug use."

"If Paul took this on head-on like Gary Johnson does and began saying it better, he would sound more rational than the Democrats," Piper said. "But by limiting the discussion to what the federal government should be doing, he's almost conceding his opponent's points. I suspect Rand Paul gets it about drug prohibition and he wants to wrap it in a safe way, but drugs is not an issue you can do that with. You have to say the war on drugs is making your teens less safe."

For Rand Paul, the real issue is not drug reform, but reining in federal spending. Whether his foray into the morass of drug politics will derail his campaign remains to be seen.

(This article was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

United States

California Legislature Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Just hours before the state's legislative session ended Tuesday, the California Assembly voted to approve SB 1449, Sen. Mark Leno's bill to fully decriminalize simple marijuana possession. The bill passed the Senate in June and now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

The vote was 43-33 and largely along party lines. Democrats supported the bill 40-8, while Republicans opposed it 23-2.

Under current California law, possession of less than an ounce of pot is punishable by no more than a $100 fine, but is still a misdemeanor. That means people busted for a joint or a half-bag must be arrested, booked, and appear in court, and they get a criminal record. It also means meaningless work for the police and the courts.

Marijuana possession is the only California misdemeanor with a set maximum fine and no possible jail time. The Leno bill changes the offense to an infraction, meaning no arrest, no booking, no court appearance, and no criminal record.

"The penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a fine of $100, with no jail time," Leno said on introducing the bill. "If the penalty is $100, with no jail time, that is an infraction. That is not a misdemeanor."

Keeping simple possession a misdemeanor has had "serious unintended consequences," the San Francisco Democrat said. "As the number of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests have surged in recent years, reaching 61,388 in 2008, the burden placed on the courts by these low level offenses is just too much to bear at a time when resources are shrinking and caseloads are growing."

Sacramento, CA
United States

President Obama's New Drug War Strategy and the Low-Down on 'America's Trillion Dollar Dope Game'

Houston-area journalist Clarence Walker reflects on the occasion of a trillion dollars spent on the failed US drug war.

No other has spent more money on the dope trade than our own U.S. Federal Government. Even the richest of drug barons and associated players, dead and alive, cannot or could not have competed with the avalanche of paperwork doled out by the government in its fight against this monster. Even the once ruthless - and now dead - Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel, the Cali Cartel or the Mexican Drug Cartels cannot match the money they have earned from the drug trade with the amount the Federal Government has allocated for years in its battle to stem the flow of illegal drugs into America.
And what is the cost for our government in its fight against this narcotics epidemic, a war raged now for some four decades? By all means have a guess, but here is the figure according to The White House: One trillion dollars.

The war on drugs is the longest war the American government has ever fought, longer than World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War and  the Vietnam War. And even after 40 years, the battle to enforce the laws of the land that prohibits "getting high on dope", this poisonous, addictive trade continues to thrive with the ferocity of an earthquake across the planet. Quite obviously, there is no clear-cut victory in sight.

From the outset, if  the intent driving the war on drugs, beginning in 1970 under President Nixon's Administration, was to create a drug-free America, we can see that after the spending of a trillion dollars, culminating in millions of arrests, the creation of a burgeoning health care system with which to effectively treat addicts, and the billions spent on law enforcement's task of arresting drug dealers and the  prison system in housing the millions of nonviolent drug offenders alongside thousands who have brought violence and death, the "war on drugs" nevertheless remains a dismal failure.
This stated, 'drug warriors' on the front lines against the illegal drug trade, beginning with The White House and extending to Congress, the FBI, the DEA and down to the street cops of America, remain committed to fight this evil to the finish line.
A DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) spokesman issued the following statement: "Our fight against drug abuse and drug trafficking is an ongoing struggle that should be treated like any other social problem. Now is not the time to abandon our efforts."
Therefore, if America's war on drugs is a sure loser then what plans will be deemed effective enough to change courses for the better? Critics of  drug policies say that the only sensible solution in controlling drug abuse in America is to legalize drugs across the board.
However, the Obama Administration concedes they have a better plan to deal with drug abuse and drug trafficking, a plan they state is far more efficient than that seen with previous administrations.


President Obama has Devised a New Drug War Strategy for America.


Three months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a historical new drug war strategy for 2010 to fight drug trafficking, and to increase efforts towards prevention and demand reduction.
Those agreeable with the proposed plan view Obama's strategy as a step in the right direction.
"For the first time ever, the nation has an administration that views the drug issue first and foremost through the lens of the public health mandate,"  says John Carnervale, an economist and drug policy expert who served under three previous White House administrations and four drug czars.
U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowke concedes the old drug war strategy hasn't worked. "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,"  he told the Associated Press in May. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems has, if anything, magnified and intensified."
In announcing the Drug Control Strategy before Congress, President Obama gave the following speech to unveil his new plans for America:
"I am committed to restoring balance in our efforts to combat the drug problems that plague our communities. Drug use endangers the health and safety of every American, depleting financial and human resources, and it deadens the spirit of many of our communities. While I am proud of the new direction described herein, a well-crafted strategy is only as successful as its implementation. To succeed, we will need to rely on the hard work, dedication, and perseverance of every concerned American."


U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowski says the old drug war strategy hasn't worked.


Obama has requested a record of $15.5 billion for the 2011 drug war, with approximately two thirds of the $15.5 billion for law enforcement and another $5.6 billion for treatment and prevention.
The New Drug Control Strategy outlines the five-year goals to reduce drug use and its consequences:
(1) Reduce the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent
(2) Decrease drug use among young adults by 10 percent
(3) Reduce the number  of chronic drug users by 15 percent
(4) Reduce the incidence of drug-induced deaths by 15 percent
(5) Reduce the prevalence of drugged driving by 10 percent
In the aftermath of Obama's drug budget plan, the opposition took center stage, shooting barbs at what they brand as a similar blueprint to those mandated by previous adminstrations.
"Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as George Bush Jr., with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention, despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue",  said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance.
"People say the drug budget hasn't shifted as much as it should have, and granted I don't disagree with that,"  Drug Czar Kerlikowske responded. "We would like to do more in that direction."
"Nothing happens overnight," he added. "We've never worked the drug problem holistically. We'll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction."
Former Drug Czar John P. Walters was unimpressed by Kerlikowske's disparaging comments. "To say that all the things done in the war on drugs hasn't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said.  "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."
Critics say Obama's new plan to deal with drug abuse is needed but that the 'war on drugs' is still in effect because billions are still being wasted on overcrowding jails and prisons with low-level users and that the criminalization of illicit drugs has also fueled the HIV epidemic around the globe.
No billions, howevr, are wasted, according to DEA authorities as long as lives are saved from the destruction of drugs and while the arrests of thousands of drug kingpins and other large-scale dealers continues.
Anti-drug organizations have historically argued that the government's attempt to sway people from using drugs is a ridiculous course of action because people will always use drugs.

A drug war is not an overnight solution. Remember that it took the FBI  almost 50 years to finally break the Mafia organizations into a million pieces. Today's Mafia is a far cray from the highly disciplined, secretive and well-oiled criminal machine it had once been; now a broken, disrupted syndicate polutted with more 'rats' on the feds' side than those members still alive, trying to 'kick' hard enough one last time and score enough paper to retire without going to prison for the rest of their lives.
At  this year's Vienna Declaration, Evan Wood, a founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, told the foreign media,  "The current approach to drug policy is ineffective because it neglects proven, evidence-based intervention, while pouring a massive amount of public funds and human resources into expensive and futile enforcement efforts."
Overall, the ongoing violence seen in Mexico between rival drug cartels is a tragic reminder of the alarming threat of drug trafficking and the urgent need for every nation and foreign nations to keep pushing forward to protect its people from the violence, corruption and instability caused by illegal dope smuggling across national and international borders.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon offers a more rehabiliatitive approach. "If America wants to fix the drug problem, it needs to do something about Americans' unquenching thirst for illegal drugs."
Drug Legalization: Pros and Cons
Rising crime rates, the excessive cost of enforcing drug laws, and the exclusive availability of illegal drugs shipped daily into the United States have led to people from all walks of life in pressuring the government to legalize drugs.
Proposals to advocate drug legalization vary widely, with hard-line advocates opting for the elimination of all federal drug laws, while others call for more modest reforms. Some advocates focus on legalizing just marijuana, either specifically for medical purposes or more general use, and further schools campaigning for more 'flexible' and 'relaxed' narcotic laws.
Writer Ted Mclaughlin voiced his sentiments about what he calls 'America's failed drug policies'. "It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat history and that is obviously true with prohibition when it was tried in the 1920s with alcohol."
"Our second attempt at prohibition, the "war on drugs" has done exactly the same thing. It has not stopped or decreased drug use."
"Instead of spending another trillon dollars trying to stop drug use and failing, while the drug cartels get richer and more violent, wouldn't it make more sense to legalize drugs and then tax the hell out of them?"
Supporters of legalization contend that easing the nation's drug laws would carry numerous benefits, such as the destruction of the black market and the inherent criminality which surrounds it. If drugs were legal and available in the legitimate marketplace, they believe, that smugglers and their networks of dealers would be put out of business and drug gangs would no longer engage in violent battles for territories.
As the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) once put it: "Drug legalization would sever the connection between drugs and crime that today blights so many lives and communities."
Does this sound logical or is it a figmentation of someone's fantasy?  Here are the real voices declaring whether or not drugs should be legalized and they belong to those in the trenches of America's drug war, the former DEA agents and narcotics detectives, the patrol officers, political players from the past as well as those still active in the dope game, professional drug crusaders:
Case Argument Number # 1:

David Boaz, a high-ranking member of the Cato Institute, states, "As long as Americans want to use drugs, and are willing to defy the law and pay high prices to do so, major drug busts are futile, and, yes, drugs should be legalized."
Case Argument Number # 2:

U.S. Congresman Bob Barr said, "Despite numerous law enforcement efforts  and the dedicated service of thousands of professional men and women, the government has not halted drug use; the problem is worse today than in the 1970s when President Richard Nixon first coined the phrase the "War on Drugs."
"Whether we like it or not, tens of millions of people have used drugs and some will continue to use drugs. Yet in 2005, we spent more than $12 billion on federal drug enforcement efforts and another $30 billion was spent to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders."
Case Argument Number# 3:

Jeffrey A Miron, a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University, is on the same team as Congressman Barr. In a CNN commentary, he wrote that, "Drug prohibition has disastrous implications for National Security.
By eradicating coca plants in Colombia or poppy fields in Afghanistan, prohibition breeds resentment for against the United States and we enrich those who produce and supply drugs."
"Prohibition, Miron adds, supports terrorists who sell protection services to drug traffickers."
Case Argument Number # 4:

DEA Authorities: "Critics of drug legalization have made the argument that drugs are no more dangerous than alcohol. But drunk driving is one of the primary killers of American people. Do we want our bus drivers, nurses, doctors, school teachers and airline pilots to be legally allowed to ingest drugs one evening, and operate freely at work the next day? Do we want to add to the destruction by making drugged driving another primary killer?"
Case Argument Number# 5:

Charles B. Rangel,  U.S. Democratic Congressman, stated, "Rather than holding up the white flag and allowing drugs to take over our country, we must continue to focus on the drug demand as well as supply if we are to remain a free and productive society."
Case Argument Number # 6:

Joe Harris, a retired narcotic detective with Harris County Sheriff department  in Houston Texas offered his views on President Obama's new drug war approach in spending more money focused on prevention and to treat serious drug abuse as a major health issue:
"For a drug user to get help they must first want it. It is a good thing for the Obama administration to try another approach in dealing with drug abuse because enforcement is not doing it." 
Harris should know how the drug trade works and how it affects millions of users. As a highly regarded narcotics detective with 20 years of experience on the streets of Houston, Harris worked many high-profile drug trafficking cases both with the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI under the HIDTA (High Intenity Drug Trafficking Area).
In one heroin bust in 1983, former detective Harris was shot and seriously wounded by a drug dealer in Houston's South Park area. A total of five people were shot in the firefight, which was captured by Channel 2 news reporters.
During the late 1980s, when the Federal Government cracked down nationwide against the epidemic of crack cocaine, Harris worked deep undercover with Houston's DEA office to bring down major drug criminals in the Houston area. This operation netted multiple charges against several people in what was to become the first crack cocaine case in the United States to be tried under the Federal Kingpin statue. In a  jury trial lasting three months, out of 20-25 defendants, many were convicted and sentenced to prison, including the ringleaders Martha Marie Preston and Johnnie Binder. Both Binder and Preston were given 40 years in prison.
Although Harris supports preventative alternatives, the retired detective is adamantly against legalizing drugs. "Drugs are bad for your health including marijuana because marijuana even causes birth defects in new born children. How in the hell can intelligent people be so stupid as to think that dangerous drugs should be legalized?" Harris concluded with these parting words. "If drugs were legalized, that would only increase addiction."
Case Argument Number# 7:

Actor Bruce Willis encapsulates his drug legalization thoughts in terms of government benefits. "Cocaine is killing this country and the countries 'coke' goes into. If the government was not making money on it they would have stopped it in one day."

Case Argument Number #8:

Jacksonville Florida Police Chief Tony Grootens who worked 21 years with the DEA, agrees with many of President Obama's new drug enforcement programs. Most importantly, Grooten forewarns of the pitfalls in battling a drug problem within communities.
"If you have a bunch of people in a community involved in narcotics, thats the kind of community you're going to have."
Grooten also agrees that strategies aimed at staunching drug abuse should continue: "I think we need more prevention here at home and more controls on our  borders to stop the flow of drugs. If you have a farmer in Bogota, Colombia gowing coffee and making a living or if he can grow cocaine and get rich,  what is he going to do?"
Case Argument Number # 9:



Former DEA Agent Lew Rice says that if drugs were legalized it would only increase addiction that those wanting to legalize drugs should allow their children or grandchildren to try drugs.


Lewis "Lew" Rice is a retired Special Agent  with DEA (DRUG Enforcement Administration). Throughout Rice's exemplary career, he worked the nitty-gritty streets of Harlem, taking down drug dealers in New York, Jamacia, Miami, Washington D.C., Philadephia and Detroit.
As a security business owner, Lewis recently wrote an interesting book about the drug trade titled: 'DEA Special Agent: My Life On The Front Line'(Dorrance Publishing Company). In the book, Rice recalls his firsthand experience of the devastation caused by drugs:

"Several of my friends had served in Vietnam and when they returned to the States, their daily focus was to purchase heroin. My running buddies were distracted, and I wanted revenge."
When Rice first joined the DEA he hopped on a train home to where he lived with his mother in the housing projects of Queens, New York. Upon arrival, he told her: "Mom, I'm a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration." 
She responded unenthusiastically,"You don't need to be involved in that work, it's too dangerous." 

But this young man wanted to be a anti-drug enforcer. He felt passionately that dealers belonged in the penitentiary and for 25 years he helped put many there.
As for drug legalization, Rice feels that the idea is totally misguided and illogical. "Those that seriously believe in legalization should try it with their own kids and grandkids to see how it works."
"The people I know have seen first-hand the danger of drug addiction, overdose, breaking up families and the devastation of entire communities."
Lewis provides his assessment of the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy under President Obama:
"It is a well thought out, sensible and reasonable plan. As a former 25 year veteran of the DEA and also a parent who has raised children who fortunately did not succumb to the drug life style, I applaud Obama's strategy."
Rice says that part of Obama's prevention education plans designed to educate teenagers about the dangers of drugs, including providing treatment on demand, is an important step in the right direction.
But Rice also says it is very important for the government to continue "aggressive law enforcement against drug dealers who know the danger of using drugs because they don't  use drugs themselves."
"Drug dealers know that drugs ruin people lives."
A graduate of St. John's University, Rice was sworn in as a Special Agent with the DEA on October 29th, 1974. Lewis became the first African-American to become the Special-Agent-in-Charge (SAC) of the DEA office in New York, one of the largest drug enforcement agencies in the world. He also served as the SAC for the Detroit and Philadephia offices.
Overall, Rice is not surprised that many people favor legalizing drugs. In his book, he writes, "In June 2000,  I wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Post in response to a column by Arriana Huffington, an advocate for legalizing drugs. "
Rice's decisve article explained how important it was that drug enforcement and prevention programs should work hand-in-hand to assist the government's ability to impede drug trafficking and save the lives of young people.
What stunned the veteran agent was that ninety-five percent of the respondents to his story ridiculed him, stating that the 'drug war' was  a failure.
In Rice's book, he fired back, "tell that to the spouses and children of the hundreds of narcotic agents and officers who were either killed or severely injured trying to stop drug dealers from poisoning the minds of our children."
Case Argument Number# 10:

Retired Houston-based DEA agent Charlie Mathis had a message for all those who say drugs should be made legal: "How would they feel if one of their family members were on hooked on a drug like PCP, a drug that makes people go crazy - they take off their clothes and become violent as hell."
Case Argument Number #11: 

Dionne McCloud, a Houston resident with extensive knowledge of drug users and the drug trade, says that even if our government legalized drugs it wouldn't prevent the dealers from making money but that legalization would serve to make the situation more complicated.
"If drugs were legalized, the government would have to change drug laws, then regulate the drugs sold to people."
And there's the risk factor. She added, "Legalizing drugs would increase addiction and even allow the government to be sued if someone's relative or love one died from an overdose."
"Does anyone really think the government wants to be responsible for legalizing dangerous drugs like PCP, heroin and cocaine that can cause immediate death?"
Case Argument Number#12:

As a Journalist, writer and documentary film maker, Tom Feiling lives in South London. Feiling has argued for drug legalization for several years through his writing and film productions. His documentary "Resistencia" is a powerful film based on the Hip-Hop culture in Columbia and won numerous awards at Film Festivals worldwide. This sensational film was aired in four countries.
Last year, Penguin Books published Feiling's first book, 'The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over The World.' In 2010, the book was republished as 'Cocaine Nation'. 

Feiling has worked for the BBC and produced another documentary called 33% Heroin and subsequently he wrote a compelling feature in The Sunday Times newspaper, 'The Truth About Cocaine in Britain'.
Feiling stated to this journalist. "I've heard it said that if drugs were legalized, those currently involved would find other criminal activities to make money from. This strikes me as a fatalistic way of looking at the problem. Drug dealers respond to the demand for drugs, which can only be supplied illegally."
In response to critical statements made by former DEA agents, Lew Rice and Charlie Mathis, say "for people in favor of legalizing drugs how would they feel to see any of their family members on PCP or other hard drugs."

Feiling responds, "Truth be told, I know almost nothing about the drug PCP. But if it were legal and regulated, public health authorities would have the ability and motivation to educate people like me about PCP. Therefore I'd be able to find out a lot more about it and its effects."
If drugs in America were legal, Feiler indicated that the drug producers of Colombia would be undercut by legal production of cocaine and driven into bankruptcy. Feiler explains. "Legal opium production for medical use is a mainstay of the economy in Tasmani, Australia. It is legal, regulated and taxed; organized crime groups in Australia have no interest or place in the business."
"The terrible violence afflicting countries like Mexico, Colombia and Afghanistan would be significantly reduced by legalizing drugs like cocaine and heroin."
The concept of drug legalization does have some credibility but so far only has a place in a few countries:
(1) Argentina
(2) Canada
(3) Sweden
(4) Czech Republic
(5) Netherlands
(6) Portugal
(7) Norway
In 2001, Portugual earned the distinction of becoming the first European country to abolish all criminal penalties associated with personal drug possession. Drug users in that country are targeted for therapy rather than prison sentences. DEA officials express opposition against the American government incorporating European liberal drug policies into U.S. law.
Why are the DEA opposed to the idea? 
DEA authorities told Congress that when Holland legalized marijuana, heroin addictions also tripled. But overall drug use in fact  decreased to comfortable levels in Portugual.
Case Argument Number 13:

Houston's KPFT Radio Host Dean Becker is one of the nation's fiercest advocates against drug prohibition laws. A former marijuana grower, he staunchly supports legalizing drugs. "People need to know the truth about these draconian drug laws."

In a Huffington Post article published last year, Becker asked this simple question: "Who are the real drug kingpins?" 

He ticks off a cast of characters. "They are bankers, pharmaceutical house CEOs, weapons manufacturers and a thousand other corporate interests whose gross profits depend on violence, hatred, distrust and deception. The prohibition of drugs is the ideal mechanism to continuously increase the rhetoric of fear and to incrementally diminish our rights and freedom."

A former U.S. Air Force Security Policeman, Becker retired from the oil and gas business in 2001 and following retirement commenced a new career as a radio host for the Pacifica Networks KPFT 90.1 Station.
In 2002, Becker founded the Drug Truth Network on KPFT and currently each week produces nine programs for more than 60 broadcast affiliates in the United States, Canada and Australia.
KPFT Drug Truth Network has gained so much popularity that recently the world-renowned James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Houston's prestigious Rice University has archived Becker's radio broadcast for download and stream the option to hear the program on its website.
For years, Dean advocated on his popular show that the American government's so-called 'war on drugs' has been an absolute failure. "Over thirty million people have been arrested,  we empower our terrorist enemies,  we enrich barbarous cartels, and we're giving a reason for the violent gangs to exist, and furthermore we ensure more access to drugs for our children."
In a July 11th interview with New Criminologist journalist Clarence Walker, Becker insists the drug war is the legacy of the DEA and other associated law enforcement. "No DEA agents, or narcotic enforcers, (former or current) will come on my show to defend the drug war policy."
Why? He explained what he considers to be their cowardice: "Law enforcement have their reputation to defend. They wouldn't want to say,  'We've locked up over thirty million people for nothing!'"
When this journalist asked Becker what he thought of the former drug agents quoted in this story, who said legalizing drugs would only increase addiction, the radio host paused, then replied,  "there's a slight chance people will try drugs. But Obama's treatment and prevention program ends right there because it amounts to window dressing the situation and not really doing the kind of job and what it takes to tackle the bigger issues regarding drug use and the profits made by our enemies who turn around and use the drug profits to arm themselves with military weapons to kill American people."
Becker does agree to an extent with Obama's new  approach toward helping those dependant on drugs. "Treatment should be made more available on demand rather than people being caught by the law and forced into treatment."
"This war on drugs will go on until the last man standing and the last man standing will say: 'Lock up the drug dealers, they are the bad guys.'  So the war on drugs will remain the first declared war that could last forever."
Here is a more in-depth report of the Obama Drug Control Plan:
(1) Steady collaboration between public health and public safety organizations to prevent drug use.
(2) To curtail drugged driving by encouraging States to establish and enforce laws that impose penalties for the presence of any illicit drugs while driving.
(3) Start a National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.
Health Care Intervention:
(1) Increasing screening and early intervention for substance use in all health care settings.
(2) Curbing prescription drug abuse by expanding prescription drug monitoring programs.
(3) Supporting the development of new medications to treat addiction.
Breaking Incarceration Cycle:
(1) Promoting  and supporting alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts.
(2) Supporting post-incarceration re-entry efforts by assisiting in job and housing programs.
(3) Developing more effective models of addressing substance use disorders among youth in the juvenile justice system.
Disrupting Drug Trafficking:

(1) Implementing the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, the Adminstration's border plan, which require U.S. agencies to take specific actions to address the serious border drug threat.
(2) Interdicting the southbound flow of currency and  weapons.
Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director for Drug Policy Alliance, weighed in on Obama's drug plan for America. He writes in a Huffington Post article, "The Obama Administration has taken important steps to undo some of the damage of past administrations' drug policies. And there's no question that it points in a different direction and embraces specific policy options counter to those of the past thirty years. But the new plan makes it clear it is still addicted to the reality of the drug war."

Under U.S. Freedom of Information Act  Law, the Federal government released the following historical audit this year on the Trillon dollars spent on the drug war since 1970, and the cost is still rising as nationwide law enforcement,the DEA, FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Military and  other drug enforcement groups continue to battle the  Mexico Drug Cartels and Afghanistan's heroin trade along with drug trafficking throughout cities in the United States.
(1) $20 billion for designated foreign countries to battle drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the U.S. spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking expanded to Mexico, thus bringing forth years of horrendous violence.
(2) $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No" message to America's youth and thousands of other prevention programs. Yet high school students report the same rate of illegal drug use during the 1980s and 1990s was practially the same usage in the 1970s. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also says drug drug overdose have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 drug deaths last year.
(3) $49 billion allocated to law enforcement agencies to stem the flow of illegal drugs transported across the border. Experts predict at least 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs in 2010, which averages more than 10 million more users than in 1970. Much of the consumable drugs this year alone will come from the narcotics territory of Mexico.



(4) $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drg offenders, 10 million of them for marijuana possession. Studies show that jail time usually increases drug abuse.
(5) $450 billion to incarcerate drug offenders in the federal prison system. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.
At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The U.S. Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse has overburdened resources, including a burgeoning health care system, lost productivity and destruction of the environment will eventually cost the U.S. over $200 billion a year.
With the government now having spent a trillion dollars to fight drug trafficking and drug abuse, what is the game plan to end this war altogether?

There isn't one. And there should be no plan to quit because questions must be asked, such as if the government legalize drugs because people still use drugs, then why not legalize murder, rape and robbery? This sounds extreme of course but it's the same principle; the law hasn't resoundingly stopped people from killing their fellow human beings, so is there a reason then to legalize murder?
Case Argument Number#14:

The Final Argument: Drug Crusader Carolyn Gagaro makes a compelling case against drug legalization: "I believe we need to focus more on educating children on the dangers of using drugs and keeping the drug dealers from bringing the drugs into our country. Just because some efforts were misplaced that does not mean we should throw in the towel and make illegal drugs legal. Should we re-focus our efforts, 'yes'. Eliminate our efforts, 'no'."
Adversaries who favor drug legalization have said that taking drugs is an individual choice and people have a right to ingest drugs as they see fit as long as there is no harm being caused to anyone else.
Gargaro responds, "I understand this argument but it has two major flaws: First, we don't have the right to do anything with our bodies. Can I walk down the street naked?"  Can I say what I want to say anywhere at anytime? (if you said "yes", try yelling "hijack" on a airplane)."
"If drugs become legal, be prepared to see me walking around topless. I'll be damned if people are allowed to shoot up with drugs and I have to wear a top on a blazing hot day in the summer!"
Regarding illegal drugs' harmful effects, the crusader replies, "Don't tell me that drugs only hurt the user, tell that to a crack baby. It is estimated that over 100,000 babies each year are born addicted to cocaine and I don't think these babies chose to take these drugs."
"How can we prohibit legal drugs like "Phen-Fen" due to its side effects but allow people to take cocaine?"
Most critics say if drugs were legalized it will mean less government and less taxes: Gargaro counters, "legalizing drugs will not magically change the government and if government has not changed prior to drug legalization, then legalized drugs will only lead to more government."
This dedicated person outlines the consequences of drug legalization and what it will bring forth for American people:
(1) New Laws For Minors:
"If cigarettes and alcohol cannot be sold to minors, can anyone realistically say that drugs will not be restricted from minors."
(2) Lawsuits:
"Everyone should be aware of the lawsuits against the tobacco industry; so guess how many lawsuits will be brought up for drugs?"
(3) Taxes:
"Do people really think legal drugs will not be taxed? In fact it is the tax from the drugs to pay for all the drug rehab programs."
(4) Will Legalized Drugs Reduce Crime?

"Crime will also not be reduced by drug legalization because studies show a correlation between drug use and crime - violent crimes such as homicides, assaults, robberies and domestic violence".

"Has  anyone considered the reason that people committed a crime was because they were on drugs, legal or not? And violent behavior caused by drugs won't stop because drugs are legal. Legal PCP isn't going to make a person less violent than illegal PCP."
"Crime will rise when drugs are legal," Garago added, because more people will be taking drugs. And think about this. "Drug-related crime rates are highest where crack is the cheapest."
(5) Have Previous Prohibition Laws Worked?
Gargaro says, "No." 

"Did alcohol use decrease when it was legalized? No. When abortion became legal, did abortions decrease? No. When an action becomes legal, the number of people carrying out that action increases. Drugs are no different."
Furthermore, she argues, "Unless the most harmful and addictive drugs, such as crack and heroin, are made legal, people will still be drawn to these black market drugs."
"How will children and teenagers learn to say 'no' to pushers when they they see their parents getting high with government consent. The drug war is long and difficult and sometimes seems hopeless but we shouldn't give up."
When an Associated Press reporter asked U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano why the government still spends billions of dollars on drug programs that haven't really worked, she lamented: "Look, this is something worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody's life, a young child's life, a teenager's life, making sure they have abilities to be successful and productive adults. If you think about it in those terms, that our government are fighting for lives and in Mexico, they are literally fighting for lives as well from the violence, then you realize the stakes are too high to let go."  


Journalist Clarence Walker can be contacted at: [email protected]
Sources and Quotes used for this story: ( 1) Associated Press (2) CNN News  (3) DEA Records (4) Carolyn Gargaro (5) Huffington Post. (6) U.S. (7) British Filmaker and Journalist Tom Feiling (8) KPFT drug crusader Dean Becker.

Feature: Drug War a Devastating Failure, Scientists and Researchers Say in Vienna Declaration

A decade ago, scientists, researchers, and AIDS activists confronted a sitting president in South Africa who denied that AIDS was caused by HIV. They responded by declaring at the 2000 Durbin AIDS conference that the evidence was in and the matter was settled. Now, with the Vienna AIDS conference coming up later this month, they are at it again -- only this time the target is the war on drugs.
HCLU-organized demonstration outside UN anti-drug agency, former SSDP executive director Kris Krane inside cage (
Their weapon is the Vienna Declaration, an official conference statement authored by experts from the International AIDS Society, the International Center for Science in Drug Policy, and the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. The document is a harsh indictment of the global drug war that calls for evidence-based policymaking. It demands that laws which criminalize drug users and help fuel the spread of AIDS be reformed.

The authors of the Vienna Declaration want you to sign on, too. You can do so at the web site linked to above.

"The criminalization of illicit drug users is fueling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed," they said in the declaration.

Arguing there is "overwhelming evidence that drug law enforcement has failed to meet its stated objectives," the declaration lays out the consequences of the drug war:

  • HIV epidemics fueled by the criminalization of people who use illicit drugs and by prohibitions on the provision of sterile needles and opioid substitution treatment.
  • HIV outbreaks among incarcerated and institutionalized drug users as a result of punitive laws and policies and a lack of HIV prevention services in these settings.
  • The undermining of public health systems when law enforcement drives drug users away from prevention and care services and into environments where the risk of infectious disease transmission (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C & B, and tuberculosis) and other harms is increased.
  • A crisis in criminal justice systems as a result of record incarceration rates in a number of nations. This has negatively affected the social functioning of entire communities. While racial disparities in incarceration rates for drug offenses are evident in countries all over the world, the impact has been particularly severe in the US, where approximately one in nine African-American males in the age group 20 to 34 is incarcerated on any given day, primarily as a result of drug law enforcement.
  • Stigma towards people who use illicit drugs, which reinforces the political popularity of criminalizing drug users and undermines HIV prevention and other health promotion efforts.
  • Severe human rights violations, including torture, forced labor, inhuman and degrading treatment, and execution of drug offenders in a number of countries.
  • A massive illicit market worth an estimated annual value of US $320 billion. These profits remain entirely outside the control of government. They fuel crime, violence and corruption in countless urban communities and have destabilized entire countries, such as Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan.
  • Billions of tax dollars wasted on a "War on Drugs" approach to drug control that does not achieve its stated objectives and, instead, directly or indirectly contributes to the above harms.

"Many of us in AIDS research and care confront the devastating impacts of misguided drug policies every day," said Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society and director of the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. "As scientists, we are committed to raising our collective voice to promote evidence-based approaches to illicit drug policy that start by recognizing that addiction is a medical condition, not a crime," added Montaner, who will serve as chairman of the Vienna conference.

"There is no positive spin you can put on the war on drugs," said Dr. Evan Wood, founder of the International Center for Science in Drug Policy. "You have a $320 billion illegal market, the enrichment of organized crime, violence, the spread of infectious disease. This declaration coming from the scientific community is long overdue. The community has not been meeting its ethical obligations in terms of speaking up about the harms of the war on drugs."

Stating that governments and international organizations have "ethical and legal obligations to respond to this crisis," the declaration calls on governments and international organizations, including the UN to:

  • Undertake a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies.
  • Implement and evaluate a science-based public health approach to address the individual and community harms stemming from illicit drug use.
  • Decriminalize drug users, scale up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options and abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centers that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Unequivocally endorse and scale up funding for the implementation of the comprehensive package of HIV interventions spelled out in the WHO, UNODC and UNAIDS Target Setting Guide.
  • Meaningfully involve members of the affected community in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.
  • We further call upon the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to urgently implement measures to ensure that the United Nations system -- including the International Narcotics Control Board -- speaks with one voice to support the decriminalization of drug users and the implementation of evidence-based approaches to drug control.

"This is a great initiative," enthused Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is the most significant effort to date by the sponsors of the global AIDS conference to highlight the destructive impact of the global drug war. It is nicely coordinated with The Lancet to demonstrate legitimacy in the medical community. And it is relatively far reaching given that the declaration was drafted as a consensus statement."

"This is aimed at politicians, leaders of governments, the UN system, and it's aimed at housewives. We are trying to do basic education around the facts on this. There are still politicians who get elected vowing to crack down on drugs," said Wood. "While the declaration has a global aim and scope, at the end of the day, the person who is going to end the drug war is your average voter, who may or may not have been affected by it," he said.

"This was needed a long time ago," said Wood. "The war on drugs does not achieve its stated objectives of reducing the availability and use of drugs and is incredibly wasteful of resources in locking people up, which does little more than turn people into hardened criminals," he said.

The authors are hoping that an official declaration broadly endorsed will help begin to sway policy makers. "It will be interesting to see what kind of support it receives," said Wood. "Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has endorsed it, and we have a 2008 Nobel prize winner for medicine on the web site. There are high level endorsements, and more are coming. Whether we touch a nerve with the news media remains to be seen. I am hoping it will have a big impact since this is the official conference declaration of one of the largest public health conferences on the planet."

"We have reached a tipping point in the conversation about drugs, drug policy, drug law enforcement, and the drug war," said Stamper, now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "More and more, science has found its way into the conversation, and this is one step to advance that in some more dramatic fashion. I've heard much from the other side that is emotional and irrational. This is one effort to create even more impetus for infusing this dialogue on drug policy with evidence-driven, research-based findings."

That the AIDS conference is being held in Vienna adds a special fillip to the declaration, Wood said. "Vienna is symbolically important because it is where the infrastructure for maintaining the global war on drugs is located," said Woods, "and also because of the problems in Eastern Europe. In Russia, it's estimated that one out of every 100 adults is infected with the AIDS virus because Russia has not embraced evidence-based approaches. Methadone maintenance therapy is illegal there, needle exchanges are severely limited, the treatment programs are not evidence-based, and there are all sorts of human rights abuses around the drug war."

With the AIDS conference set to open July 18, Wood and the other authors are hoping the momentum will keep building up to and beyond. "It is my hope that now that the Vienna Declaration is online, large numbers of people will come forward and lend their names to this effort," he said.

The Vienna Declaration is one more indication of just how badly drug war orthodoxy has wilted under the harsh gaze of science. It's hard to win an argument when the facts are against you, but as the declaration notes, there are "those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo." The declaration should make their jobs that much more difficult and bring progressive approaches to drug policy that much closer.

Sentencing: South Carolina Governor Signs Reform Bill, Will End Mandatory Minimums for Some Drug Offenses

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) Wednesday signed into law a sentencing reform package that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The bill, SB 1154 was based on the recommendations of the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission, empanelled by the governor in a bid to slow the growth of corrections spending in the state.

"A number of structural problems with our prison and parole system have prevented Corrections from making improvements that would both discourage recidivism and save taxpayer resources in the process," Sanford said in a signing statement. "This bill accomplishes many of those goals. It's designed not only to make our corrections process even more lean and effective and thereby save taxpayers millions -- but also to reduce overall crime and consequently improve the quality of life we enjoy as South Carolinians."

While South Carolina can brag about how cheaply it can imprison people -- it spends the second lowest amount per inmate in the country -- its prison budgets have soared along with its inmate population since the 1980s. In 1983, South Carolina spent $64 million to keep 9,200 people behind bars; this year, it will spend $394 million to imprison 25,000 people.

The bill attempts to change that trajectory through a number of measures. It ends mandatory minimum sentences for first-time drug possession offenders and allows the possibility of probation or parole for certain second and third offenders. It also removes the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine possession.

It also allows more prisoners to get into work release programs in the final three years of their sentences and mandates six months of reentry supervision for nonviolent offenders. The bill allows for home detention for third time driving-with-a-suspended-license offenders and for route-restricted drivers on first and second convictions.

It isn't all sweetness and light. The bill shifts the status of two dozen crimes, including sex offenses against children, from nonviolent to violent, meaning inmates convicted of those offenses will have to serve at least 85% of their time before being paroled. It also increases penalties for habitual driving-while-suspended offenders who kill or gravely injure someone.

Still, the bill should have a real impact on the system, especially given that drug offenders are the biggest category of offenders in prison in South Carolina, followed in order by burglars, bad check writers, and people driving on a suspended license. Officials estimate the measure will save the state $409 million over the next five years.

Feature: California Marijuana Initiative Has Slim Lead

According to two different polls released Wednesday, the Tax Cannabis California marijuana legalization initiative is ahead but not by much, making the path to victory in November a rough one. Both polls show the initiative winning, but just barely, and both polls show the initiative hovering around 50% support. On the other hand, polling also shows remarkably high support for the concept of marijuana legalization in some form -- especially when the word legalization is not used.
initiative proponent Richard Lee, working with a student at the Oaksterdam University medical marijuana school
In an internal campaign poll, when voters read either the ballot measure's title or the attorney general's summary of it -- all voters will see when they cast their votes -- the initiative garners 51% and 52%, respectively, with opposition at 40%. In a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, 49% approved of the initiative, while 48% opposed it.

The standard wisdom among initiative veterans is that campaigns should begin with support around 60%. They argue that once a campaign begins, opponents will find ways to shave off percentage points, and if you are starting with only half the voters on your side, losing any support means you lose.

With such a tight margin, expect both proponents and opponents to be energized in the six months between now and the November vote. Initiative organizers have to be concerned with the narrowness of their lead, especially given that attacks on the whole notion of pot legalization in general and on specific provisions of the initiative will only mount between now and then.

The initiative would tax and regulate marijuana much the way alcohol is now. It would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and allowing the growing of a 25-square-foot garden throughout the state, but would give counties and municipalities the local option of whether to allow taxed, regulated marijuana sales or not.

Additional findings from both polls provide further detail on where the initiative does -- and does not -- have support, and offer hints of where the campaign is going to have its work cut out for it. Among the PPIC poll's other findings:

  • Majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (55%) favor legalization. Thirty-four percent of Republicans are in favor.
  • Most San Francisco Bay Area residents (56%) are in favor. Residents in other regions are either divided or opposed.
  • Most Latinos (62%) oppose legalization. A majority of whites (56%) are in favor.
  • Men (54%) are more likely to be in favor. Less than half (42%) of women favor legalization.
  • Support for legalization decreases with age. 56 percent of adults aged 18-34 are in favor, compared with 42 percent aged 55 and older.

The additional findings from the initiative's internal poll are the surprising ones:

  • 76% say marijuana is already being used in the state and ought be regulated.
  • 74% say marijuana ought be regulated like tobacco and alcohol.
  • 69% say the initiative will bring the state needed revenue.
  • 61% say marijuana is easier for minors to obtain than alcohol.
  • 60% say it will save the state money.
  • 57% say it will put police priorities where they belong.

These number will provide the initiative campaign with a number of promising avenues of attack in the coming months, but they also speak to the disconnect between attitudes favorable to marijuana legalization in the abstract and actually voting for a concrete measure. To win, the campaign is going to have to close that gap, convincing voters that the initiative will do what voters themselves suggest they want.

"This is further evidence that voters remain eager to replace a failed policy with a more honest, commonsense solution that will control and tax marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, generate critically needed revenue, and reduce crime by putting police resources where they belong, while ending the black market," campaign spokesman Dan Newman told the Chronicle.

"The numbers reflect what I've said all along -- it's going to be a tough battle," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "It's going to take a lot of work to maintain a lead. There is a tendency for voters to vote no on initiatives, and this is a nasty year with a nasty turnout of angry right-wingers not inclined to support these things. It's also an off-year, when students and progressives are less likely to vote."

"Depending on how Richard Lee is doing building a campaign organization, building support, and raising funds, this has a real chance," said long-time drug reformer Eric Sterling. "It would have a profound impact if it wins. It will have extremely important political consequences. It upsets the international treaties, it completely changes what the US can say to its foreign partners about drug policy," he argued, making the case for getting behind the initiative.

"Anyone who works in drug policy and underestimates the long-term impact of a victory makes a mistake," Sterling said. "People should really think about committing themselves to making monthly contributions by credit card and encouraging everyone they know to get on the list. This is really worth it. If activists all around the country committed themselves to raising some money for the campaign and started having bake sales and pot lucks and the like, that pool of money could be like the kind of contributions that brought Obama an electoral victory. It is certainly doable."

Democrats would be well-advised to embrace the campaign, said Sterling. "With the polling showing that Democrats and young people support this, it seems to me that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee interested in getting Sen. Boxer reelected and the National Democratic Governor's Association interested in getting a Democrat elected governor and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would be interested in issues that appeal to Democrats and young people. They need to mobilize some fraction of the electorate that voted for Obama two years ago," he argued. "If they don't, they won't have the turnout and the success they seek."

It would be good politics for Democrats, Sterling said. "They need to encourage their candidates to support it when they can and think about their strategies to tamp down the opposition. They can make the necessary warnings that they're not pro-drug, but trying to regulate it and protect children and bring revenue into the public coffers."

But Democrats aren't known for their backbone on this issue, said Gieringer. "Democrats should like this on the ballot because it encourages turnout by young Democratic and liberal voters, so there is a lot of support in Democratic quarters for that reason," Gieringer said. "But the Democratic Party of California has never even endorsed medical marijuana; they are scared of the drug issue and scared of the crime issue. Anti-crime measures do very well here, and a lot of Democratic elected officials, like a lot of the public, regard the initiative as a 'pro-crime' measure," he pointed out.

The organized opposition, consisting of law enforcement groups, anti-drug community groups, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving coalesced into an anti-initiative coalition called Public Safety First, was quick to go on the attack. "These numbers certainly suggest a great deal of voter skepticism out there," noted group spokesman Tim Rosales in a Wednesday news release. "This is before voters have received any information about this measure's truly numerous flaws."

Citing the initiative's poll findings that large majorities want pot regulated like alcohol and tobacco and that the initiative would bring in needed revenue, Rosales continued his broadside, previewing opposition arguments likely to be fined honed by November. "Those numbers basically show that this measure cannot pass, once voters know what it does and doesn't do," said Rosales. "This measure doesn't regulate marijuana, it does just the opposite. Furthermore, the initiative specifically forbids the state to tax marijuana, so they are basically giving voters a huge reason to vote 'No.'"

In fact, the measure gives cities and counties the option of taxing and regulating marijuana sales. While leaving taxation and regulation to local authorities will not help the state government address its perpetual budget crisis, it will help cash-strapped local governments who desperately need increased revenues to avoid service cuts and lay-offs.

That the opposition is organized and ready to put up a fight is clear. What is less clear is the support the initiative will receive from California's large and multi-faceted marijuana industry. "Marijuana users are overwhelmingly in favor of the initiative, but most of the money in the marijuana lobby at the moment is in medical marijuana, and those folks are happy with things as they are and are not exactly jumping to open up competition like this. And some growers are seriously worried, so there are important parts of the movement that are not necessarily excited," the veteran California activist said.

We're less than six months from Election Day. Victory is in grasp, but so is defeat. These next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.

Prohibition: Drug War is a Failure, Associated Press Reports

In a major, broad-ranging report released Thursday, the Associated Press declared that "After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US War on Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." The report notes that after four decades of prohibitionist drug enforcement, "Drug use is rampant and violence is even more brutal and widespread."
The AP even got drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to agree. "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske said. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

The AP pointedly notes that despite official acknowledgments that the policy has been a flop, the Obama administration's federal drug budget continues to increase spending on law enforcement and interdiction and that the budget's broad contours are essentially identical to those of the Bush administration.

Here, according to the AP, is where some of that trillion dollars worth of policy disaster went:

  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico -- and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the US were serving sentences for drug offenses. [Editor's Note: This $450 billion dollar figure for federal drug war prisoners appears erroneous on the high side. According to Department of Justice budget figures, funding for the Bureau of Prisons, as well as courthouse security programs, was set at $9 billion for the coming fiscal year.]

The AP notes that, even adjusted for inflation, the federal drug war budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon asked for in his first federal drug budget.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron told the AP that spending money for more police and soldiers only leads to more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."

"President Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush's, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. "This despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

"For the first time ever, the nation has before it an administration that views the drug issue first and foremost through the lens of the public health mandate," said economist and drug policy expert John Carnevale, who served three administrations and four drug czars. "Yet... it appears that this historic policy stride has some problems with its supporting budget."

Of the record $15.5 billion Obama is requesting for the drug war for 2011, about two thirds of it is destined for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction. About one-third will go for prevention and treatment.

The AP did manage to find one person to stick up for the drug war: former Bush administration drug czar John Walters, who insisted society would be worse if today if not for the drug war. "To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Uh, yeah, John, that's what it's saying.

Feature: Obama's First National Drug Strategy -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A leaked draft of the overdue 2010 National Drug Strategy was published by Newsweek over the weekend, and it reveals some positive shifts away from Bush-era drug policy paradigms and toward more progressive and pragmatic approaches. But there is a lot of continuity as well, and despite the Obama administration's rhetorical shift away from the "war on drugs," the drug war juggernaut is still rolling along.
sign of the leaker?
That doesn't quite jibe with Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) director Gil Kerlikowske's words when he announced in April 2009 that the phrase "war on drugs" was no longer in favor. "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. We're not at war with people in this country."

The leak was reported by long-time Washington insider and Newsweek columnist Michael Isikoff, who mentioned it almost off-handedly in a piece asserting "The White House Drug Czar's Diminished Status." Isikoff asserted in the piece that the unveiling of the strategy had been delayed because Kerlikowske didn't have the clout to get President Obama to schedule a joint appearance to release it. His office had been downgraded from cabinet level, Isikoff noted.

That sparked an angry retort from UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, a burr under the saddle to prohibitionists and anti-prohibitionists alike for his heterodox views on drug policy. In a blog post, Kleiman seemed personally offended at the leak, twice referring to the leaker as "a jerk," defending the new drug strategy as innovative if bound by interagency politics, and deriding Isikoff's article as "gossipy."

Kleiman also suggested strongly that the leaker was none other than former John Walters on the basis of an editing mark on the document that had his name on it. But Walters has not confirmed that, and others have point out it could have been a current staffer who is using the same computer Walters used while in office.

On the plus side, the draft strategy embraces some harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and the use of naloxone to prevent overdoses, although without ever uttering the words "harm reduction." There is also a renewed emphasis on prevention and treatment, with slight spending increases. But again reality fails to live up to rhetoric, with overall federal drug control spending maintaining the long-lived 2:1 ration in spending for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction versus that for treatment and prevention.

The strategy also promotes alternatives to incarceration, such drug courts, community courts and the like and for the first time hints that it recognizes the harms that can be caused by the punitive approach to drug policy. And it explicitly calls for reform of the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

It sets a number of measurable goals related to reducing drug use. By 2015, ONDCP vows to cut last month drug use by young adults by 10% and cut last month use by teens, lifetime use by 8th graders, and the number of chronic drug users by 15%.

The 2010 goals of a 15% reduction reflect diminishing expectations after years of more ambitious drug use reduction goals followed by the drug policy establishment's inability to achieve them. That could inoculate the Obama administration from the kind of criticism faced by the Clinton administration back in the 1990s when it did set much more ambitious goals.

The Clinton administration's 1998 National Drug Control Strategy called for a "ten-year conceptual framework to reduce drug use and drug availability by 50%." That didn't happen. That strategy put the number of drug users at 13.5 million, but instead of decreasing, according to the 2008 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, by 2007 the number of drug users was at 20.1 million.

While Clinton took criticism from Republicans that his goals were not ambitious enough -- Newt Gingrich said we should just wipe out drugs -- the Bush administration set similar goals, and achieved similarly modest results. The Bush administration's 2002 National Drug Control Strategy sought a 25% reduction in drug use by both teenagers and adults within five years. While teen drug use declined from 11.6% in 2002 to 9.3% in 2007, then drug czar Walters missed his goal. He did less well with adult use almost unchanged, at 6.3% in 2000 and 5.9% in 2007.

The draft strategy, however, remains wedded to law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction, calls for strong federal support for local drug task forces, and explicitly rejects marijuana legalization. It also seeks to make drugged driving a top priority, which would be especially problematic if the administration adopts per se zero tolerance measures (meaning the presence of any metabolites of a controlled substance could result in a driver's arrest whether he was actually impaired or not).

Still, while the draft strategy is definitely a mixed bag, a pair of keen observers of ONDCP and federal drug policy pronounced themselves fairly pleased overall. While still heavy on the law enforcement side, the first Obama national drug strategy is a far cry from the propaganda-driven documents of Bush era drug czar John Walters.

The Good

"This is somewhat of a surprise, because for the first time they have included reducing the funds associated with the drug war in their strategy, although not in a big way, they're calling for reform of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and they are calling for the reform of laws that penalize people," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is the first time they've included anything recognizing that some of our policies are creating harm," he added.

"The stuff about syringe exchange and naloxone for overdose prevention is pretty good. It's the first time they've embraced any part of harm reduction, even though they don't use that name," Piper noted.

"I'm also impressed with the section on alternatives to incarceration," said Piper. "They basically said most drug users don't belong in jail, and a lot of dealers don't, either. It's still wedded to the criminal justice system, but it's good that they looked at so many different things -- drug courts, community courts, Operation Highpoint (warning dealers to desist instead of just arresting them as a means of breaking up open-air drug markets), programs for veterans. They seem interested in finding out what works, which is an evidence-based approach that had been lacking in previous strategies."

The Status Quo

"Drug war reformers have eagerly been waiting the release of President Obama's first National Drug Control Strategy," noted Matthew Robinson, professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University and coauthor (with Renee Scherlen) of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the ONDCP." "Would it put Obama's and Kerlikowske's words into action, or would it be more of the same in terms of federal drug control policy? The answer is yes. And no. There is real, meaningful, exciting change proposed in the 2010 Strategy. But there's a lot of the status quo, too," he said.

"The first sentence of the Strategy hints at status quo approaches to federal drug control policy; it announces 'a blueprint for reducing illicit drug use and its harmful consequences in America,'" Robinson said. "That ONDCP will still focus on drug use (as opposed to abuse) is unfortunate, for the fact remains that most drug use is normal, recreational, pro-social, and even beneficial to users; it does not usually lead to bad outcomes for users, including abuse or addiction," he said.

"Just like under the leadership of Director John Walters, Kerlikowske's ONDCP characterizes its drug control approaches as 'balanced,' yet FY 2011 federal drug control spending is still imbalanced in favor of supply side measures (64%), while the demand side measures of treatment and prevention will only receive 36% of the budget," Robinson pointed out. "In FY 2010, the percentages were 65% and 35%, respectively. Perhaps when Barack Obama said 'Change we can believe in,' what he really meant was 'Change you can believe in, one percentage point at a time.'"

There is also much of the status quo in funding levels, Robinson said. "There will also be plenty of drug war funding left in this 'non-war on drugs.' For example, FY 2011 federal drug control spending includes $3.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (which includes Customs and Border Protection spending), more than $3.4 billion for the Department of Justice (which includes Drug Enforcement Agency spending), and nearly $1.6 billion for the Department of Defense (which includes military spending). Thus, the drug war will continue on under President Obama even if White House officials do not refer to federal drug control policy as a 'war on drugs,'" he noted.

The Bad

"ONDCP repeatedly stresses the importance of reducing supply of drugs into the United States through crop eradication and interdiction efforts, international collaboration, disruption of drug smuggling organizations, and so forth," Robinson noted. "It still promotes efforts like Plan Colombia, the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, and many other similar programs aimed at eradicating drugs in foreign countries and preventing them from entering the United States. The bottom line here is that the 'non war on drugs' will still look and feel like a war on drugs under President Obama, especially to citizens of the foreign nations where the United States does the bulk of its drug war fighting."

"They are still wedded to interdiction and eradication," said Piper. "There is no recognition that they aren't very effective and do more harm than good. Coming only a couple of weeks after the drug czar testified under oath that eradication in Colombia and Afghanistan and elsewhere had no impact on the availability of drugs in the US, to then put out a strategy embracing what he said was least effective is quite disturbing."

"The ringing endorsement of per se standards for drugged driving is potentially troubling," said Piper. "It looks a lot like zero tolerance. We have to look at this also in the context of new performance measures, which are missing from the draft. In the introduction, they talk about setting goals for reducing drug use and that they went to set other performance measures, such as for reducing drug overdoses and drugged driving. If they actually say they're going to reduce drugged driving by such and such an amount with a certain number of years, that will be more important. We'll have to see what makes it into the final draft."

"They took a gratuitous shot at marijuana reform," Piper noted. "It was unfortunate they felt the need to bash something that half of Americans support and to do it in the way they did, listing a litany of Reefer Madness allegations and connecting marijuana to virtually every problem in America. That was really unfortunate."

More Good

There are some changes in spending priorities. "Spending on prevention will grow 13.4% from FY 2010 to FY 2011, while spending on treatment will grow 3.7%," Robinson noted. "The growth in treatment is surprisingly small given that ONDCP notes that 90% of people who need treatment do not receive it. Increases are much smaller for spending on interdiction (an increase of 2.4%), domestic law enforcement (an increase of 1.9%), and international spending (an increase of 0.9%). This is evidence of a shift in federal drug control strategy under President Obama; there will be a greater effort to prevent drug use in the first place as well as treat those that become addicted to drugs than there ever was under President Bush."

Robinson also lauded the Obama administration for more clarity in the strategy than was evident under either Clinton or Bush. "Obama's first Strategy clearly states its guiding principles, each of which is followed by a specific set of actions to be initiated and implemented over time to achieve goals and objectives related to its principles. Of course, this is Obama's first Strategy, so in subsequent years, there will be more data presented for evaluation purposes, and it should become easier to decipher the ideology that will drive the 'non war on drugs' under President Obama," he said.

But he suggested that ideology still plays too big a role. "ONDCP hints at its ideology when it claims that programs such as 'interdiction, anti-trafficking initiatives, drug crop reduction, intelligence sharing and partner nation capacity building... have proven effective in the past.' It offers almost no evidence that this is the case other than some very limited, short-term data on potential cocaine production in Colombia. ONDCP claims it is declining, yet only offers data from 2007 to 2008. Kerlikowske's ONDCP seems ready to accept the dominant drug war ideology of Walters that supply side measures work -- even when long-term data show they do not."

Robinson also lauded ONDCP's apparent revelation that drug addiction is a disease. "Obama's first strategy embraces a new approach to achieving federal drug control goals of 'reducing illicit drug consumption' and 'reducing the consequences of illicit drug use in the United States,' one that is evidence-based and public health oriented," Robinson said. "ONDCP recognizes that drug addiction is a disease and it specifies that federal drug control policy should be assisted by parties in all of the systems that relate to drug use and abuse, including families, schools, communities, faith-based organizations, the medical profession, and so forth. This is certainly a change from the Bush Administration, which repeatedly characterized drug use as a moral or personal failing."

While the Obama drug strategy may have its faults, said Robinson, it is a qualitative improvement over Bush era drug strategies. "Under the Bush Administration, ONDCP came across as downright dismissive of data, evidence, and science, unless it was used to generate fear and increased punitive responses to drug-related behaviors. Honestly, there is very little of this in Obama's first strategy, aside from the usual drugs produce crime, disorder, family disruption, illness, addiction, death, and terrorism argument that has for so long been employed by ONDCP," he said. "Instead, the Strategy is hopeful in tone and lays out dozens of concrete programs and policies that aim to prevent drug use among young people (through public education programs, mentoring initiatives, increasing collaboration between public health and safety organizations); treat adults who have developed drug abuse and addiction problems (though screening and intervention by medical personnel, increased investments in addiction treatment, new treatment medications); and, for the first time, invest heavily in recovery efforts that are restorative in nature and aimed at giving addicts a new lease on life," he noted.

"ONDCP also seems to suddenly have a better grasp on why the vast majority of people who need treatment do not get it," said Robinson. "Under Walters, ONDCP claimed that drug users were in denial and needed to be compassionately coerced to seek treatment. In the 2010 Strategy, ONDCP outlines numerous problems with delivery of treatment services including problems with the nation's health care systems generally. The 2010 Strategy seems so much better informed about the realities of drug treatment than previous Strategy reports," he added.

"The strategy also repeatedly calls for meaningful change in areas such as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders; drug testing in courts (and schools, unfortunately, in spite of data showing it is ineffective); and reentry programs for inmates who need help finding jobs and places to live upon release from prison or jail. ONDCP also implicitly acknowledges that that federal drug control policy imposes costs on families (including the break-up of families), and shows with real data that costs are greater economically for imprisonment of mothers and foster care for their children than family-based treatment," Robinson noted.

"ONDCP makes the case that we are wasting a lot of money dealing with the consequences of drug use and abuse when this money would be better spent preventing use and abuse in the first place. Drug policy reformers will embrace this claim," Robinson predicted.

"The strategy also calls for a renewed emphasis on prescription drug abuse, which it calls 'the fastest growing drug problem in the United States,'" Robinson pointed out. "Here, as in the past, ONDCP suggests regulation is the answer because prescription drugs have legitimate uses that should not be restricted merely because some people use them illegally. And, as in the past, ONDCP does not consider this approach for marijuana, which also has legitimate medicinal users in spite of the fact that some people use it illegally," he said.

The Verdict

"President Obama's first National Drug Control Strategy offers real, meaningful, exciting change," Robinson summed up. "Whether this change amounts to 'change we can believe in' will be debated by drug policy reformers. For those who support demand side measures, many will embrace the 2010 Strategy and call for even greater funding for prevention and treatment. For those who support harm reduction measures such as needled exchange, methadone maintenance and so forth, there will be celebration. Yet, for those who support real alternatives to federal drug control policy such as legalization or decriminalization, all will be disappointed. And even if Obama officials will not refer to its drug control policies as a 'war on drugs,' they still amount to just that."

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