Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jul 2014
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, GA)
Copyright: 2014 Ledger-Enquirer
Author: Jonathan Blanks
Note: Jonathan Blanks, a writer and researcher in Washington, D.C., 
wrote this opinion column for The Washington Post.
Page: 2


If the Obama administration is to be believed, America's infamous 
"War on Drugs" is over. In its most recent National Drug Control 
Strategy, released last week, officials promised a more humane and 
sympathetic approach to drug users and addiction. Out, the report 
suggests, are "tough on crime" policies. Rather than more police and 
more prisons, officials talk about public health and education. They 
promise to use evidence-based practices to combat drug abuse. And 
they want to use compassionate messaging and successful reentry 
programs to reduce the stigma drug offenders and addicts face.

Unfortunately, the government's actions don't jibe with their rhetoric.

For decades, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy 
and its allies have used government resources to marginalize, 
stigmatize and demonize drug users. There were the nonsensical ads 
like "this is your brain on drugs" and inexplicable demonstrations 
like torching cars and valued possessions. The Office of Drug Control 
Policy, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the Ad Council and Above 
the Influence portrayed small time dealers as snakes and users as rats.

They also showed drug use as a gateway to prostitution and, in the 
wake of 9/11, explicitly linked casual drug users to supporting 
terrorism and cop killing. The United States has spent millions 
stigmatizing drug use, sale and abuse -- all before one even begins 
to calculate the costs to arrest, try and incarcerate offenders for 
the past 40 years. This, of course, comes in addition to the stigma 
that comes with incarceration and criminal records.

The Obama administration says it wants to de-stigmatize drug 
addiction. But no matter how hard it tries, it's virtually impossible 
to de-stigmatize behavior that is still a crime.

And the administration is doing little to actually de-stigmatize drug 
use. Despite their supposed adherence to "evidence-based practices," 
officials steadfastly refuse to consider legalization or 
decriminalization, even though the evidence unambiguously shows drug 
prohibition has been a disaster.

Prohibition-related violence has killed thousands in this country and 
multiples of that number more in supplier nations like Colombia, 
Mexico and Afghanistan. In the United States, incarceration rates 
have become so onerous (over 700 adults per 100,000) that research 
suggests they're probably doing harm to society by pulling too many 
workers out of the economy, breaking up families and making offenders 
less employable upon release.

Although "alternatives to incarceration" are touted throughout the 
latest strategy, suggestions for fully or even partially separating 
nonviolent drug use from the criminal realm altogether are absent. 
Indeed, the marijuana liberalization in Colorado and Washington State 
are mentioned only as adding "challenges" the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy's efforts to maintain the perception of the drug's harm.

Though the ONDCP repeatedly states that drug addiction is a disease, 
police and incarceration remain the primary instruments to treat its 
myriad manifestations. It's fair to say that disease takes a backseat 
to the still-aggressive law enforcement tactics as the first weapon 
against American drug use and sale -- even if the rhetoric sounds 
less harsh than it used to.

Supposing the old commercials and posters are relics of the past and 
the ONDCP has legitimately turned over a new leaf, there are others 
within the Obama administration who still haven't received the memo. 
Seemingly everyone can agree that some drugs are more harmful than 
others, but the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration was 
unable or unwilling to say to Congress that marijuana was less 
harmful than methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin.

Even under a prohibition regime like the United States', it is absurd 
to suggest that an honest, relative assessment of harms and 
consequences is unknown to the people in charge of setting and 
executing drug policy. Yet the nation's top drug enforcement agent 
can't say a drug on which is virtually impossible to fatally overdose 
is less harmful than drugs that kill thousands of Americans each year.

Clearly, this is not yet a federal government willing to apply 
compassion, embrace evidence, and repudiate years of drug misinformation.

If this administration is serious about ending the stigma associated 
with drug addiction and is truly dedicated to education and 
evidence-based methods to fight drug abuse, it must first address and 
then reject the rank dishonesty and propaganda that has defined the 
American drug war for decades. The ONDCP's language seems to be 
moving in the right direction, but the government remains unable to 
be honest with itself, let alone the general public. As people in 
recovery might suggest, getting past entrenched denial is a requisite 
first step toward fixing America's drug war problem.

This is your government on drugs. Any questions?
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom