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

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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.

(This blog post 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.)

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Yes, it is a solid response with no commitments.

"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."

Yet ,I'ts one the mainstream media and the system in general will continue to side step, especially during the election process.

Until politicians

take on the drug war debate more directly and honestly that Obama is doing the status quo will prevail.

As long as SOME drug policy reformers are willing to accept generalities, platitudes non-responsive lawyeristic innuendo in place of firm and knowledgeable assertions of committed political leadership drug policy reform is a waste of time.

Give me a break, Pat

I didn't say I "accept" this. I'm merely pointing out the slow evolution of mainstream drug policy rhetoric, the improvement of which you can't plausibly deny.

That observation has nothing to do with whether I actually agree fully with Obama's statement.


[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.Canada I read the article and have also gone over the Vienna 2008 announcement and agree that the rhetoric has been toned down.At it's root,however is still the notion that it's possible to, in some way create a drug free society.The words are a little kinder and the tone is softer but the message is unchanged.Drugs are a scourge that must be defeated at all costs.While it may be easier to stomach the dialogue the message remains that abstinence is the be all and end all of the drug issue.That all drugs are evil and cannot be tolerated.They may be a little more willing to give an addict a clean needle but they still want to catch him when the needle is full.I heard nothing concerning a let up on even marijuana,which we all know the majority of people think should be legal.The moralists are still in the drivers seat even though they are a small minority and have little support world wide.There is little to celebrate here except for those that dislike the moralistic drum beat that has haunted this issue for the past 100 years.We can look forward to more of the same but with a much kinder and gentler drug prohibition.Remember that next time you get busted for smoking a joint.

Micah Daigle's picture

This didn't happen on its own...

I think it's important to mention that there's a good reason that this is the new status quo. The drug policy reform movement made it happen.

It says a lot about the progress of our movement that a presidential candidate from one of the two major political parties in America is willing to talk so comfortably about a complete paradigm shift from a criminal justice approach to a public health approach. Sure, he doesn't mention too many specifics, and he's definitely made some questionable statements in the past (e.g. marijuana decrim flop; the DEA being good for New Orleans reconstruction; etc), but to put this in perspective, try to imagine this happening 8 years ago:

An African American admitted cocaine user, talking about ending harsh mandatory minimums and shifting the entire drug strategy away from a criminal justice model and toward a public health model. And he's in the lead.

We've come a long way from "I didn't inhale." And it's thanks to the hard work put in by thousands of drug policy reform advocates -- like you, Scott -- day in and day out. We've created an environment poised for reform. Sure, people running for political office will always lag behind a little, and we should keep pushing them to take firmer stances on this issue, but we should also take a moment to appreciate the incredible progress that's been made in the past decade.

And to the readers who haven't yet gotten actively involved, it's not too late to join the winning team. ;)

Micah Daigle
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

So who....

is Obama going to name "CZAR" ? Or will he let the office out to a new tenants? Any continuation of an Office of Drug "CONTROL" Policy would be furthering the status quo. Take out the word Control and insert Regulation,ONDRP.At least the office would then raise revenue rather than waste it. Are drugs really so important that we need a whitehouse office dedicated to them? Thanks to SSDP and all the others efforts in ending the worlds longest running ,and most pointless, war.


I've been trying to change the minds of people in a local forum[penrick dot com*TM],w/a daily posting of :Drug War" facts from NORML and DRCnet
i think i may have changed the thought process in at least one member of Gov't,albeit local but it's a start.
Thank you all who want to change the status quo.
Obama may listen to logic and reason.
The coming crash[stock mkt] may be a help, as funds will be scarce.
This is one War that we can END w/victory being Harm Reduction,not the end of all drugs and their use.

Why not demand action?

I live in the "bible belt" and folks here are not much for tolerating anything. So lately I have started asking "do you care if your kids can get drugs"? Boy do I get an earful, I let them vent and rant, then I ask why don't you hold our government responsable? And then I remind them of the ad by the "NRA" a few years ago. Remember? "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns". Well the same holds true when our government shirks its duty, when they outlaw something people want, then we have street dealers. And do you think these people will ID your kid or your friends kid?
I have people look at me and say "ya know that makes sense", cause most of them grew up with "booyleggers". Don't know if it will make a difference, but for now its the most positive way of talking to some very close minded people. Whie_bull in southeast Arkansas

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