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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.

  1. "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.

  1. "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.

Originally posted to WaveFunction on Thu May 14, 2009 at 10:47 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Humph (7+ / 0-)

    Well, I've learned something. I like the link to the truth audit. I wish I'd known of it before. Thank you for the enlightenment. I swore to be unreasonable about this, so I'll keep my word and say I think they should go faster, but I'll add this caveat: good job so far.

  •  Thank you! (8+ / 0-)

    And post a damn tip jar!

    I'm glad to see some potential reform coming to this subject.

  •  Gah... (6+ / 0-)

    Just another war declared by a Republican that we cannot hope to truly win, will never actually lose (even if we were to 'cut and run'), and continue to pay through the nose for while brown people die by the truckload.

    Any positive movement on this is welcome.

  •  Just a name change.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If they really wanted to end the "Drug War" they wouldn't have just but $3billion into the Byrne Grant in the stimulus package

  •  These are recreational drugs (6+ / 0-)

    These drugs need to be made available in legal and maximally safe forms.

    This means marijuana without being mixed with tobacco.

    For cocaine and opiates, this means a beverage like the original formula cola or an opiate soda available in various strengths based on a hospital blood level test.

    For past opiate beverage purchasers that desire to taper off, a month supply of two-litter bottles with tapered and labeled amounts should be made available on monthly request.

    No jail (except for robbery, DUI, etc.)

    No treatment, except upon user request

    Only drugs as safe as they can be made available to people with government ID showing them to be at least 18 years of age or holding a doctor's prescription for tapered solutions.

  •  They're going to tie it to Webb's bill (4+ / 0-)

    Webb and Specter (??!???) are currently trying to revamp the Criminal Justice Program.  Administration Officials are quietly backing the bill, so once this thing gets out of the Senate and the house it will quickly become law.

  •  My only concern is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That if we go down the legalization route for harder drugs than pot, then we need strict laws around their legal use.

    This means no smoking in public, I don't want to inhale drugs thanks.  This also means similar laws around use and safety re: work settings and operation of machinery and vehicles.

    Just like alcohol and tobacco, and gambling for that matter, we need rules in place that protect the public from addiction and toxicity.  Beyond that though I'm all for focusing jail time on violent criminals and thiefs, not people with a nasty habit.

    Government for the people, by the people

    by axel000 on Thu May 14, 2009 at 11:24:46 AM PDT

    •  There are laws (0+ / 0-)

      against driving while intoxicated.

    •  Employers might be able to pay (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      a 1% payroll surtax on your job to allow them to fire you for off-site drug use.

      Secretary $28,000/year, but no firing rights
      two machinists at $105,000 total
      tax due $1,050

      Employers might be able to pay a 3% payroll surtax on your job to allow the presence of drugs above a specific level on the job to be a crime.

      The money raised would help pay for drug treatment.

    •  Regarding Cannabis and safety (0+ / 0-)

      A recent Swiss study discovered, counter-intuitively, that there is an inverse relationship between recent heavy marijuana use and emergency room admissions ...


         Conversely, cannabis use was associated with a significantly lowered risk for injury (Table 3). Whereas the risk for injuries associated with the use of less than a pipe or joint's worth were not significantly different from the one associated with no use, relative risks decreased with increasing levels of use and were significantly lower than 1.

         snip ...

         The present study in fact indicated a 'protective effect' of cannabis use in a dose-response relationship. Second, the combined intake of alcohol and cannabis failed to show an increased risk for injury when compared with unaccompanied alcohol use, as should be expected [21]. Nonetheless, the relative risk was below even 1 when compared with individuals that abstained from both substances in the six-hour period prior to injury.

      And regarding driving, let me pimp this diary from last Friday.

      DIFTC III - Reefer's Dirty Little Secret: Driving Stoned

  •  Your ideas about what people will say (0+ / 0-)

    misses the entire other spectrum.

    Socialist. Fascist. Communist. Teabagging. It's gonna be a long four years.

    by niteskolar on Thu May 14, 2009 at 12:01:32 PM PDT

    •  Right... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I assume you mean the spectrum of people who think changing the name is a bad idea - which happens to be nearly the same group of people who thought getting rid of the "War on Terror" didn't make sense either..

      I meant what people will say here. :-)

  •  We are at a "tipping point" here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kbman, happy camper, WaveFunction

    I was struck two ways by the following quote in the WSJ article:

    Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization of medical marijuana, said he is "cautiously optimistic" about Mr. Kerlikowske. "The analogy we have is this is like turning around an ocean liner," he said. "What's important is the damn thing is beginning to turn."

    My first reaction is that, sure, it takes the ocean liner a while to turn, incrementalism makes sense.

    My second reaction is that we should not be analogizing the situation to turning around an ocean liner, but focusing on the concept of the "tipping point," and that we should instead be taking a "Carpe diem" attitude on legalizing drugs, or at least to legalizing marijuana.  Real change can happen more quickly than we thought.  Who thought two years ago that we would have a Black President?  That we would be in the worst economy since the Great Depression?  And when did alcohol Prohibition end?  In 1933, when the Depression had fully hit.  Legalization advocates should become MORE vocal and public.  In California, we should be signing up voters  to put a pot legalization initiative on the 2010 ballot.

    •  Yes, exactly (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There has not been an opportunity like this in any of our lifetimes.  Now is not the time to be timid with our demands for change.  Now IS the time to act, to stand up and say, "ENOUGH!"

      We need to be putting the most far-reaching and grandiose plans out there and pushing for them.  Then we can "compromise" with just marijuana legalization as a start.

      Out there ...

      1. All drugs legal and available to anyone over 18.  Some regulated more stringently than others - opiates, cocaine, methamphetamines.
      1. Retroactive immunity for drug crimes - no new prison sentences for pending cases such as Charles Lynch's.
      1. Early release of drug prisoners - including funds for community reintegration and job training.
      1. End the use of SWAT teams for local law enforcement efforts, reserve for State Police and Feds, and even then only with prior permission of state's Attorney General on a case-by-case basis.
      1. End the practice of For-Profit Prisons - there is no place in a civilized society for a corporation to be making a profit on the basis of how many citizens they can lock up.
      1. No Per Se drugged driving threshold for cannabis - it is well established that the consumption of cannabis does not represent a greater driving risk factor than other behaviors or levels of inebriation deemed acceptable by society.
      1. Pass the Restore Americans' Dignity Act - banning pre-employment and random drug tests for all but the most sensitive of positions.  These tests are only effective at stopping marijuana use and may result in pushing people to use more dangerous drugs such as alcohol.

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