End the War on Drugs: A Handbook

An increasing number of lawmakers will admit that the Drug War is a failure. Even the president said this Administration would focus on the public health aspect of drug control rather than criminalization. Gil Kerlikowske, the White House Drug Czar, admitted a while back that the “War” needed to end. But, as they’ve proven again and again, actions speak louder than words.

Maybe officials just need a handbook—step-by-step instructions for ending the War on Drugs. Maybe they need someone to hold their hand through the process, giving them all the answers that will potentially align their actions with the will of the people. If this is the case and lawmakers just need someone to do the planning for them, the Drug Policy Alliance has just the thing.

end the war on drugsThis week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released their first ever federal legislative guide entitled: An Exit Strategy for the Failed War on Drugs.  The guide essentially lays out everything that needs to be done to move this country out of the dark ages of over-criminalization and mass incarceration, and into an age where drug policies are smart policies.

Cosponsored by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the guide includes “75 broad and incremental recommendations for legislative reforms related to civil rights, deficit reduction, law enforcement, foreign policy, sentencing and re-entry, effective drug treatment, public health, and drug prevention education.” In other words, it touches on every single aspect of the Drug War.

“This guide does what the Obama Administration has failed to do – it lays out a roadmap for  treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue,” said DPA’s Office of National Affairs Director Bill Piper.  “These reforms would save both lives and money.”

Ending the War on Drugs won’t be an easy thing, as marijuana prohibition repeals are showing. But, with federal leadership, it would sure be a lot easier. Because the web of federal dollars, enforcement, laws, and policies tied into the Drug War are so complex, so will be untangling them all.

Among other things, the DPA “roadmap” includes recommendations like:

  • Allow states to reform their drug policies without federal interference.
  • Shift the focus of the federal drug budget from failed supply-side programs to cost-effective demand and harm reduction strategies.
  • Repeal federal mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Repeal the federal syringe funding ban.
  • Eliminate federal possession and paraphernalia laws.
  • Declare a moratorium on creating new drug crimes, increasing existing drug sentences, or criminalizing more drugs.
  • Eliminate or cut drug war subsidies to the states to reduce incarceration and civil rights abuses.
  • Ensure the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefit rule guarantees access to evidence-based drug treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine, in the plans offered in the individual and small group markets, both inside and outside the ACA Exchanges.
  • Establish federal funding for state, county, tribal and non-profit recipients who provide overdose prevention training and resources to communities.
  • Encourage and allow for the establishment of supervised injection facilities, which are proven internationally to save lives, save money and increase participation in drug treatment without increasing drug use.

Getting federal lawmakers to adopt the DPA’s guidelines completely would be a dream. Though unlikely, if their report can even get some interest and conversation going, it’s a step in the right direction. Right now, politicians are just beginning to recognize how the Drug War has hurt this country; they are just beginning to admit their might be another, better way. And perhaps a handbook on the matter can help guide their decisions or, at minimum, guide the discussions.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

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