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Barack Obama Proposes "Shifting the Model" on the Drug War

Submitted by smorgan on
From a recent interview in Rolling Stone:

The War on Drugs has cost taxpayers $500 billion since 1973. Nearly 500,000 people are behind bars on drug charges today, yet drugs are as available as ever. Do you plan to continue the War on Drugs, or will you make some significant change in course?

Anybody who sees the devastating impact of the drug trade in the inner cities, or the methamphetamine trade in rural communities, knows that this is a huge problem. I believe in shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public-health approach. I can say this as an ex-smoker: We've made enormous progress in making smoking socially unacceptable. You think about auto safety and the huge success we've had in getting people to fasten their seat belts.

The point is that if we're putting more money into education, into treatment, into prevention and reducing the demand side, then the ways that we operate on the criminal side can shift. I would start with nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. The notion that we are imposing felonies on them or sending them to prison, where they are getting advanced degrees in criminality, instead of thinking about ways like drug courts that can get them back on track in their lives -- it's expensive, it's counterproductive, and it doesn't make sense.

I've heard it said, and I agree, that this is a solid response from a mainstream politician on the presidential campaign trail. But I also think it simply reflects a realistic summary of what the centrist, mainstream view on U.S. drug policy sounds like. In other words, rather than commending Obama for not spouting tired war metaphors, let us welcome the new status quo.

We've reached a point at which this type of rhetoric is probably the most politically palatable perspective a serious candidate could offer. We've heard McCain making some similar points, and while I certainly won't be holding my breath, I think the possibility exists that we'll make it through the entire campaign without witnessing any serious controversy surrounding the concept that our drug war needs a major ideological makeover.

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