Ending the “War on Drugs”


This is definitely a positive sign from the administration:

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 article implies that this foretells a shift to more treatment and less incarceration.

I would actually be interested in a different switch. At the end of the day, outside the case of methadone replacement therapy for heroin addicts (an admittedly important exception), there’s not a ton of evidence for the efficacy of drug treatment. What we need is less emphasis on drugs and more emphasis on actual problems associated with drugs. For example, consider a town with two crack dealers. Dealer One sells twice as much crack as Dealer Two, but Dealer Two is operating an open-air market that’s a nuisance to the local community whereas Dealer One operates discretely out of his basement and people who aren’t crack addicts don’t even notice him. I think common sense indicates that you go after the guy who’s a nuisance rather than the guy who sells more drugs. But the logic of the “war on drugs” says you follow the drugs.

But arresting a nuisance will accomplish something useful—eliminate a nuisance, and encourage other drug dealers to be less of a nuisance—whereas arresting the guy who moves more product is just going to cause his customers to look someplace else.

Part of that strategy, of course, is recognizing that it’s insane to ever have a situation where someone who wants to quit drugs can’t get him or herself into a treatment program. So in that sense, yes, more treatment. But more broadly, more focus on problems in people’s lives—violent crime, drug overdoses, the spread of HIV—and less focus on aggregate quantities of drugs.