Today in a WSJ article by Gary Fields, Gil Kerlikowske, Obama's Drug Czar, has said that the "War on Drugs" is counter-productive, and has expressed his desire to banish the term.
Mr. Kerlikowske says something I've been waiting to here for quite awhile from the people at the top:
"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."
More after the jump.
Aside from the fact that this sounds - at least in sense - identical to Michael Douglas' great speech near the end of the film "Traffic", I'm happy because it looks like the government is seriously shaping its policy around common-sense "What Works" approach versus a ridiculous "Cosmic War" approach. Yes, I realize Reza Aslan's book is about terrorism, but a lot of the same concepts transfer over to our bone-headed war on drugs.
I have a couple of ideas about what people are going to say. Let me defend the decision here on a couple of grounds.
- "This looks like it's just a name-change. Wake me up when the war on drugs actually ends."
I know the tendency is to think that name-changes aren't important. They are. A health-oriented program against addiction, as a brand, is a far cry from a "War" on anything. One places us in a realistic, winnable battle against the actual problem, the other in an unwinnable, unrealistic battle against a nebulous 'thing'. Culturally, the difference is important. It helps change our attitudes. It helps push the Overton Window that much more towards legalization.
Second, this administration isn't just name-changing. From the article:
The administration also said federal authorities would no longer raid medical-marijuana dispensaries in the 13 states where voters have made medical marijuana legal. Agents had previously done so under federal law, which doesn't provide for any exceptions to its marijuana prohibition.
And in addition, the administration is also poised to lift a ban on federal funding for needle-exchanges, an important step in combatting HIV. These changes seem rather obvious, but sadly, under the previous administration, the obvious was never quite on the table.
- "Why aren't we going directly towards legalizing drugs instead of making incremental and arguably trivial policy changes?"
I would argue that ceasing federal raids on medical marijuana facilities is a good step forward and hardly trivial. For one, it allows states to really shape their own policies around controlled substances. As states begin to de-criminalize or legalize one by one it will increase pressure on Congress to legislate towards national legalization. This is what we're seeing with same-sex marriage, it is what we will be seeing with prohibition.
Last, I want to address a lot of the hand-wringing I'm seeing here on Kos. I would just ask people to notice how, for every bone Obama tosses the Republicans, almost simultaneously he gives us one or more.
Yesterday, Obama said he wouldn't release those abuse photos, understandably perplexing a lot of us, but he also announced a regulatory framework for derivatives, calming at least MY nerves about the moral hazard of giving away billions of our money to banks.
And today, we have the drug czar openly expressing his deisre to end(at least in name) the war on drugs. I almost have to say - what is Obama going to do to make us seething angry later in the afternoon?
Folks, Obama is Man on Wire. For every victory you're probably going to have a matching disappointment. Don't for a minute stop holding this administration's feet to the fire. But I would ask you to keep in mind the promises the President has already kept or is making steady progress on and the realities he has to deal with, or else we're going to be depressed in perpetuity.