How Blind Partisan Loyalty Leads to Drug Policy Incompetence
This paragraph was written at The Washington Post:
Drug policy has improved during the Obama years. The president and his key drug policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs rhetoric of previous administrations. The number of incarcerated drug offenders has declined for the first time in decades. On the demand side, health reform will greatly expand access to substance abuse treatment. Drug markets are less violent than they used to be, too, which creates greater political space for less punitive policies.
Where to begin. It started out so promising, with the piece showing the evidence of the disaster that is drug prohibition, yet, despite this, there is no mention of the policy of legalization, largely because the author is a classic Kleiman/Sabet third-wayer technocrat on drug policy, who opposes drug legalization.
Um, abandoned the war on drugs rhetoric? Ah, this one again. Classic prohibitionist trope. Apparently if you do not say war on drugs, then it must not exist, right? Yet Obama has ramped up the drug war even more so, raiding more medical marijuana dispensaries, then his predecessor. I just do not understand how that can be an argument in favor of how drug policy is better now. Like almost everything Obama does, it is all words, and his drug policy actions seriously betray his words. In fact, his drug policy actions betray words he stated before he was even in the Senate when he said he supported decriminalizing marijuana.
This argument is so fundamentally bankrupt, it basically boils down to, “sure Obama’s administration is waging a war on drugs, at least equal to his predecessors, but, hey, they do not say war on drugs and Obama Is A Good Benevolent Person, so therefore everything is okay.” Moreover, just like Sabet does all the time, Pollack and his ilk love to pretend that only incarceration matters. They routinely shout about how low-level drug users do not go to prison. Regardless, you do not have to be convicted of a drug crime and sent to prison for a drug arrest to ruin your life. A simple drug arrest is sufficient to ruin someone’s life and ensure they do not have access to, inter alia, affordable housing, education, and employment. So really, that the number of incarcerated drug offenders has dropped is a disingenuous place to argue from about improvements in drug policy when, in fact, one does not need be incarcerated for a drug crime to ruin someones life, and the lives of their children, family, and community members.
I know very little about Obamacare, but touting it as a success for anything seems a little odd. Even if the health law creates more of a space for the expansion of treatment programs it is critical to note what kind of treatment programs. Are they criminal justice based forced treatment programs or purely voluntary private and public treatment programs? If the former, then there is nothing positive about the health law. Drug courts and criminal justice based mandatory treatment treats all drug users as addicts who need help when the overwhelmingly number of them do not. This kind of coercive treatment also leads to more people being arrested and processed through the system, and since nothing is done on the front end and police are the gatekeepers to criminal justice based treatment, we will have more arrests and more prisoners than we should.
Failure rates are also high, while costs for drug courts also exceed private community based treatment programs that out perform drug courts. This isn’t even to mention how these coercive programs exacerbate racial disparities in the number of blacks arrested and imprisoned. Now, lets say that Obamacare establishes more access to private and public treatment. As Portugal has shown us, removing the stigma and criminal penalties for drugs is what leads people to treatment, not expanded access. Because, if the government still considers you a criminal, why would an addict voluntarily disclose the criminal activity they engage in, especially since the possibility of arrest and prosecution looms so large under our current policy of drug prohibition. So long as criminal penalties exist, a certain segment of the drug using population who actually need treatment will stay away for fear of winding up in a cage.
Lastly, drug markets are less violent now, really? Mr. Pollack, meet Mexico, Mexico, Mr. Pollack. Since Obama took over in 2009, the murder rate in Mexico has risen from 17.7 percent per 100,000 residents to 23.7 percent per 100,000. In addition, the number of cartel-related homicides increased from 2009-2010 by 70 percent and from 2010-2011 by 11 percent. I’m sorry Mr. Pollack, but no, drug policy has not improved under Mr. Obama — status quo is more like it. And when considering everything Obama said about this topic prior to his 2008 election, it is downright criminal.