According to a CBS news report, politicians’ stance on the War on Drugs has changed dramatically, particularly during the years of the Obama administration. At a United Nations summit on drug policy, US representatives were notably subdued, a change from the table-thumping demands that other countries should follow the US’s super-tough stance on drug law enforcement that characterized the past. At least, that’s what Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch says he noticed most.
Some ideas were too radical for the US representatives
Some of the interventions suggested were radical enough for US delegates to refrain from supporting them. For example, the Canadian concept of safe injection sites was not supported by the US delegation, and neither was the Swiss idea of heroin-assisted treatment. But the group from the US did provide support for the public health emphasis that was incorporated into the resulting UN resolution.
Has Drug War Failure Subdued Politicians?
Lohman says that the US attitude was very middle of the road and that on the whole the US delegates acted as bystanders rather than thought leaders. It’s possible that the widespread publicity pointing towards the complete failure of the War on Drugs, a term first coined in the US, is leading to this subdued approach.
Back at home in the US, many politicians have been outspoken about the need for a different strategy, a phenomenon that appears to be prevalent all the way up to the Oval Office. With nothing other than an abysmal policy failure to bring to the table at the UN, it’s perhaps little wonder that the delegation seemed subdued.
What high level US politicians are saying about the War on Drugs
Criticism for the War on Drugs has entered the mainstream, with President Obama saying that the attitude towards addiction treatment as a ‘soft option’ for people who should have been arrested and charged needs to change. And the new distaste for the old and pointless War on Drugs isn’t just a phenomenon among Democrats. Republicans are also saying that better solutions for America’s drug problem need to be explored.
Public officials, including police chiefs are also speaking out, labelling the War on Drugs as an absolute failure. But to date, it’s all talk and no action. Policies have not changed, and no real reforms have been implemented. Much as was seen at the UN, most officials that would have the power to bring these reforms about are keeping a low profile, almost as if they were adopting a “wait and see” attitude.
At local level, there have been changes
While the top movers and shakers haven’t moved towards reform yet, many local governments are taking up the challenge. Law enforcement officials and emergency personnel are being armed with naloxone, an opioid antidote that could safe overdose victims. Safe injection sites have even been proposed for Seattle, San Francisco and New York City and special drug courts that offer rehabilitation as an alternative for drug addicts are among the reforms. In Seattle, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is offering accommodation, training and social services to non-violent lawbreakers including drug offenders.
But despite Obama’s highly publicised early release of crack cocaine users in March, nothing fundamental has changed at national level. The framework that supports the War on Drugs has not even begun to be dismantled, and all the well-intentioned but misguided legislation that supports it still stands.
Both electoral candidates are toying with the issue. Both Trump, known to once have said that the war on drugs could only be won through legalization, and Clinton, a once outspoken advocate for the War on Drugs, say that they support the right of states to legalize. Whether either candidate would be bold enough to take action once in office, remains to be seen.
Is a ‘white’ problem upping the ante?
There are those who say that the publicity given to opioid overdoses, a problem that affects white people more than previous drug-related hot-potatoes may be contributing to the softened attitude. Then there is the medical marijuana lobby, with referendum results pointing towards widespread public support for the legalization of medical and even recreational marijuana.
It is possible that politicians are paying lip-service to War on Drugs’ failure, particularly with an election on the horizon, but the reduction of a problem that is a massive drain on government budgets, the legal system and penal system must surely be at the back of their minds.
Making haste slowly
The War on Drugs, once a political favorite is rapidly becoming a political pariah, the ugly mutt nobody wants but isn’t sure what to do with. Change is inevitable, but it isn’t going to happen fast. So, at a snail’s pace we hasten towards reform and more humane drug laws as we face a drugs crisis of epic proportions that, ironically, was fed and created by the War on Drugs.