The “New” Drug Policy Spin

by Diane Dimond on May 16, 2010

Change? What Change?

Hey, good news! We’ve got a new National Drug Control Strategy!

Yup, this “Blueprint for reducing illicit drug use and its harmful consequences in America,” as our President described it, was just announced by Mr. Obama and Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske.

So we can all breathe easier now. America is sure to make major strides in ridding our nation of this terrible scourge, right?

Not so fast.

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske

While announcing this new strategy, and throughout the companion 126 page report, the administration emphasized its “new balanced approach” to fighting drugs. They referred often to a troika of ideas centered on prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

Don’t swallow the spin.

Upon analyzing the “new” plan it’s easy to see that it smells just like the same old misguided War-on-Drugs idea we’ve been waging for decades, to no avail. Just like President Bush’s drug plan two-thirds of the 15.5 billion (yes, billion!) allocated by the Obama administration will go to law enforcement. Left in the dust are the ideas that treatment of addicts, education and decriminalizing drugs could help eradicate the problem.

Nixon declares War on Drugs in 1969

Nearly every year since 1969 when President Richard Nixon first uttered the phrase “War on Drugs” the nation’s drug problem has gotten worse. Decades later illegal drugs still pour across our southern border and criminals in our own communities cook up batches of poison to ruin our kids and line their pockets. Every year millions of American families are affected by a relative determined to blot out reality with street drugs. Over-prescribing doctors have assured that prescription drug abuse is now at epidemic proportions. The Justice Department says drugged driving arrests are now more common than drunk driving arrests. There are more deaths caused by drug overdose than deaths by gunshot. In 16 states more people die from overdosing than die from car accidents.

We pick up the tab for all of it.

Think about it. What we’ve done for the last 40 years has not worked. So, why would we continue down the same path? 65% of America’s drug policy money goes for law enforcement while only about 30% goes for treatment. What would happen if we flipped those numbers and put the emphasis on anti-drug therapy and education?

Is Legalization the Answer?

It worked in Portugal. In 2001 Portugal abolished all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. Instead of expensive police operations, trials and incarcerations they offered addicts treatment and long range therapy. Guess what’s happened?

According to a 2009 Cato Institute study the overall crime rate in Portugal fell, new HIV infections caused by sharing contaminated needles plummeted and the number of addicts seeking treatment more than doubled. Most compelling: drug use among Portuguese teenagers dropped by about half as education efforts kicked in.

In Canada, Switzerland and the Netherlands similar programs to decriminalizing drugs have met with similar success.

There is clear evidence that removing criminal penalties doesn’t create more drug users as many feared. It entices addicts to seek help, it encourages their friends to take them to the emergency room if they overdose, it reduces disease and it keeps kids in school rather than dropping out to join a drug gang. With decriminalization gang profits dry up.

Cops Who Want Decriminalization

“And if the drug user is getting help somewhere they aren’t breaking into your car or home or bopping you on the side of the head for your wallet,” says 33 year veteran police officer Major Neill Franklin.

Franklin is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of officers who think legalizing drugs is the only way to stop this hideous spend-and-fight spiral we’ve been in for so long. L.E.A.P. believes, like the prohibition days outlawing alcohol, the American prohibition can never succeed.

Cops, nationwide, will tell you that every day they are overwhelmed with the drug trade’s death and destruction. So much of their time, strength and budget are consumed with trying to stamp out drug related crimes, like burglaries and homicides. It’s a no-win cycle for the officers and for society.

Imagine if we’d use more of our crime fighting dollars to treat and educate young people that a life of drugs is no life at all. Our concerted national effort to demonize cigarette smoking worked. Using money generated from the tobacco companies and from cigarette taxes the nation was able to change the public’s acceptance of smoking until now a majority considers smoking taboo.

L.E.A.P's Neill Franklin

“How do you eat an elephant?” Franklin asks. “One bite at a time and then before you know it it’s gone … Same thing can be true with eradicating the drug problem.”

What’s stopping us from taking a different path? According to Franklin, who has sat at many a negotiating table where possible changes in our drug policy have been discussed, “for many in the system the way we do it now is their meal ticket. They need to stop being selfish, they need to think about what’s best for America.”

Now that would be a refreshing new policy.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane May 16, 2010 at 11:18 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Sylvia Leinweber writes,

You are so right with everything you say in this article. The only approach will be to completely change and get rid of the tactics that haven’t worked so far.
Sadly, you are also right on target in your last paragraph. Things will not change because the prison system is a huge business in this country and without a constant supply of drug-related offense prisoners the companies operating these incarceration factories would be losing big money, meaning they will never give up on that income. I’m quite sure they are lobbying day and night to keep things just as they are.
So, thanks for your enlightened article; I wish that it would actually change things for the better.”


R. Long May 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Hi Diane,

I enjoyed the article but, like other comments and articles I have read before yours, the Canadian situation is anything but enlightened. It should not be held up as a model of enlightenment relative to the US policies. Yes, there are some advances in harm reduction, like injection sites. For no good reason, the federal government has decided to move into the same tired failure of mandatory minimum sentencing and incarceration. We have no happiness here yet.


Diane May 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Huffington Post reader Robpmgc writes:

“Very nice summary of the issues, thank you. The destabilization of a country of 110 million people on our border because of the profits from drug smuggling and manufacturing is another huge reason we must end this stupid war. But neither the right, or the left, will even discuss the issue. at least 12 government funded studies have already been paid for, by all of us, that say exactly what you are saying. Facts don’t matter when discussing this issue.


Stan R. May 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Your information is flawed. Drugs are a societal problem, we take them to get away from our problems and they are so called “recreational entertainment”. We legalized alcohol, and we still have a huge alcoholism problem, and people still kill each other people with their cars when they get behind the wheel drunk. Alcohol is a drug. Apply your theory there. Our teenage drinking isn’t down. People aren’t flocking to get help. Let’s just decriminalize drinking and driving, and people will stop drinking and driving. Gimme a break.


Diane May 18, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Huffington Post reader ThomasEH writes:

“Exactly! The time for that is fast ending. The facts of the law become more arbitrary by the day. This issue will end once people understand how the law surrounding it actually are working: Get a crash course and make it happen all the quicker:


Diane May 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm

FaceBook Friend Max Schindler writes:

” I love you for posting this…. the “war” on drugs is a ridiculous failure…. any addict knows that…. treatment and education are the only way…. bravo to you for a great article…. I hope the President is listening….”


Diane May 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Max –

I hope you are not holding your breath that the President is listening…or members of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate or….



Diane May 18, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Facebook Friend Philip Hinman writes:

“I agree with Max. But yet there are so many people in
America who are afraid to voice their honest opinions on
this issue, in fear of jeopardizing their lively hoods. Security blankets etc.


Diane May 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

Reader Larry Jones writes:

Good news! There is a program that recognizes that drug and alcohol use are a choice, not a disease. We work with people from around the world that reject the idea that they are helpless. Our independently verified success rate is 62.5%, vs. “treatment” which has never been shown to be above 20%.

Changing the ratio of spending, as you suggest, will only work if the money is spent wisely. Did you know that Alcoholics Anonymous, in the only success study they ever conducted, came up with a success rate of 5%? And that people who have NO TREATMENT have a 30% chance of stopping their behavior? Drug treatment is based on the same misguided approach.

Addiction is not a disease, and treatment does not work.

There is a great story here, I hope you’ll consider contacting me so I can tell you all about it.

Larry Jones
Cell 518-775-0867


Diane May 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

Dear Mr. Jones:

I’m happy to post your message here and I hope those in need will contact you to see if your strategy/program might work for them.

You and I agree there is a smarter way to spend all the billions we as a nation shell out for anti-drug programs and enforcement every year. However, I don’t want to be put in a position of suggesting or endorsing any one particular therapy.

Here’s hoping you and yours can help countless Americans wean themselves off the poison they put in their bodies.

Diane Dimond


griz May 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Legalize drugs and you take the money out of it. …and you take the money out of it not just for the criminals, but also for the politicians; maybe that’s redundant.


Don May 28, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I’ve seen far too many addicts that did have access to remediation programs, and didn’t want to be clean, they just wanted to be rid of the financial problems because of it, but they loved the drugs. If it was decriminalized, who would make the drugs? The desire would not go away, not in our society. So the government would make the drugs, having an appropriate tax, and the illegal drug trade would undercut the prices, and nothing much would change. So many of the people that can be helped are being helped. Could more use the support, I’m sure, but not everyone wants help. As for Holland, I’ve seen what takes place there, and as for Switzerland, their experiment at Needle Park scared them with the outcome of increased usage. Thank you for writing about this though. I don’t disagree with reversing the percentages for a couple of years, just so we can get a baseline on those that do want help, and those that don’t.


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