#396 Obama’s Take On The Drug War

Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2009
Subject: #396 Obama’s Take On The Drug War



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #396 – Sunday, 22 February 2009

Today the Denver Post printed the column below Hopefully the
syndicated column will be printed in many more newspapers.

Please contact your local newspapers to request that they print the
column. Newspaper editors should know how to obtain columns from the
Washington Post Writers Group.

Among the important issues addressed in the column is United Nations
drug policy summit in Vienna next month. We also reflected our concern
in this FOCUS Alert http://www.mapinc.org/alert/0392.html

News clippings which mention our President may be found here

Please let the Obama administration know your views. You may send a
short message to the White House by using the webform on this page
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ You may call the White House about
the issue at 202-456-1111 or send a fax to 202-456-2461. Reports
indicate that it may be necessary to call repeatedly to reach the
phone number, but that your efforts are carefully noted when you do
reach the number.


Pubdate: Sun, 22 Feb 2009

Source: Denver Post (CO)

Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Writers Group

Contact: openforum@denverpost.com

Author: Neal Peirce


Fissures are suddenly forming along the edges of the giant iceberg of
America’s multibillion-dollar “war” on drug use, first formally
proclaimed by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

But so much depends on what President Barack Obama decides to do with
the issue.

This month a Latin American commission headed by former Presidents
Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and
Cesar Gaviria of Colombia condemned harsh U.S. drug prohibition
policies that are based, in Gaviria’s words, “on prejudices and fears
and not on results.”

Fueled by Americans’ drug appetite and dollars, drug-gang violence is
engulfing Mexico, threatening the very stability of the state with
massive corruption and close to 6,000 killings last year.

Brazil is afflicted with daily gun battles between police and gangs in
urban slums. And despite years of intensive U.S.-backed efforts to
eradicate Colombia’s cocaine exports, official reports show they’ve
risen 15 percent in this decade. A high proportion are smuggled into
the U.S.

The drug war, the former presidents charge, is imperiling Latin
America’s democratic institutions and corrupting “judicial systems,
governments, the political system and especially the police forces.”

As both the world’s largest drug consumer market and the lead voice in
setting global drug policy, the United States, the Latin leaders
argue, has huge responsibility now to “break the taboo” that’s
suffocated open debate about the wisdom of a clearly failed 38-year

The leaders are placing hopes in Obama, who as a candidate said the
“war on drugs is an utter failure” and talked favorably about more
public health-based approaches.

Given that history, and given this president’s openness to hearing
diverse points of view, it’s hard to believe he’ll maintain the stony
wall of indifference to drug policy reform that all his predecessors
since Nixon have maintained.

Still, there are crucial issues of politics and timing. One can just
imagine White House advisers telling Obama to steer clear of the drug
issue, that it could be as perilous and distracting as gays in the
military were for President Bill Clinton in his first year in office.

Against that background, the Latin leaders’ statement itself may help
move the compass. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug
Policy Alliance, calls their manifesto (www.drugsanddemocracy.org) “a
major leap forward in the global drug policy debate.” One reason:
these are conservative, highly respected leaders.

Gaviria, as president of Colombia in the early ’90s, for example,
worked with U.S. anti-narcotics agents to hunt down and kill Pablo
Escobar, the cocaine kingpin.

But Gaviria and his fellow former presidents, along with Latin mayors,
writers and other respected leaders joining in their declaration, say
it’s time to recognize that force and prohibition have failed to stop
dangerous narco-trafficking.

It’s high time, they propose, to focus on harm reduction and
prevention efforts — following European models to change the status
of addicts from drug buyers in an illegal system to that of patients
cared for in a public health system. They also suggest considering
decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal use — a step
Obama recently indicated he’s not ready to take.

And they say they’ll be watching how the U.S. handles the meeting of a
key United Nations-sponsored Commission on Narcotic Drugs which
convenes in Vienna next month. The commission is to review the
prevailing, harsh, U.S.-molded drug policies the U.N. General Assembly
set in 1998. But there’s the question: Will Obama (and Hillary
Clinton’s State Department) send reformers, or just bureaucrats who’ve
soldiered in our blind-alley war on drugs? Drug reformers were
disappointed when Obama recently passed over public health advocates
to appoint a police chief — Gil Kerlikowske of Seattle — as the
country’s new drug czar (director of the Office of National Drug
Control Policy).

But Kerlikowske does appear to have worked harmoniously with Seattle’s
cutting edge of drug reforms — well-established needle exchange
programs, marijuana arrests declared the lowest law enforcement
priority through public initiative, and a local bar association that’s
a national model in finding alternatives to drug prohibition laws.

So there are gleams of hope at the end of a long tunnel. And what
better time than this wrenching recession to shift law enforcement to
legitimately serious crimes, starting to discharge the hundreds of
nonviolent drug offenders held in our bulging, cost-heavy jails and

Predictably, any shift will be tough. Many law enforcement agencies
count on the jobs — and seizures of cash — that the drug “war”
delivers. Our “prison-industrial complex,” guard unions included,
remains potent. And federal law actually prohibits the drug czar from
recommending legalization of any proscribed drug, no matter what his
personal judgment may be.

We have dug ourselves a deep hole. Only forthright and courageous
leadership is likely to start us on a saner path. Can this be “the
time?” Please, Mr. President.


Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor www.mapinc.org