Drug Czar: Just Say No to ‘War on Drugs’

Created: May 14, 2009 09:44 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Gil Kerlikowske, the newly minted head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, is calling for a radical refocus of the nation’s efforts to fight drugs — beginning with the elimination of the Nixon-era term, “War on Drugs.”

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“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,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.” [...]

The Obama administration is likely to deal with drugs as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice alone, with treatment’s role growing relative to incarceration, Mr. Kerlikowske said.

Indeed, as The Journal notes, the administration has already begun moving away from the policies of recent decades. The Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, has announced it will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries operating legally under state law, and it has called for Congress to eliminate the sentencing disparity for crimes related to crack and powder cocaine.

However, those who favor a “tough-on-crime” approach to deal with the drug problem probably need not worry the United States will turn into the Netherlands, known for extremely liberal drug policies, anytime soon. When Obama was asked directly about the prospect of legalizing marijuana during an online town hall in March, he cracked a joke and dismissed the seriousness of the question.

But the government’s apparent recognition that America’s tough drug control policies have failed to stem drug use or availability — while ballooning the nation’s incarceration rate — is certainly welcome news for those who support a more realistic and compassionate approach to tackling the drug problem.