Drug Policy

ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske's Model for Enlightened Drug Policy: Nancy Reagan


The December 27 issue of The Nation features a cover package of drug policy articles, several of which are available online to nonsubcribers, including contributions from the Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann and the Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer. While the cover boldly urges, "DARE to End the War on Drugs," the inside headline calls for a much less ambitious "rebalancing" of drug policy, which drug czar Gil Kerlikowske claims to favor  in an interview with Sasha Abramsky. In Kerlikowske's view, what does this "rebalancing" entail? Spending more money on "prevention and treatment"—and also on drug law enforcement, since "it shouldn't be an either/or, to take away money from interdiction or some other part." He explains that it's "incredibly simplistic" to "characterize the drug efforts of the government…with some type of definition of where the money is going." The Obama administration's more nuanced approach, Kerlikowske says, means recognizing that terms like the war on drugs "do not apply very well to the complexity of the drug problem." It also means "talking about addiction as a disease"—a disease that, unlike diabetes or cancer, can get you arrested. But if you don't arrest drug users (or at least threaten to arrest them), how can you force them into treatment? Busting them is the compassionate thing to do. And how's this for nuance: Asked to identify the drug war's "major sucesses," Kerlikowske cites "'Just Say No' under Nancy Reagan."

In February I noted that President Obama's drug control budget was virtually indistinguishable from his predecessor's, except that he wanted to spend even more money on a crusade he once called "an utter failure." I discuss the hopes that Kerlikowske would be a kinder, gentler drug warrior here, here, here, and here.

[Thanks to Tom Angell for the tip.]

NEXT: Health Insurance Rate Hikes: Unreasonable if Excessive, Excessive if Unreasonable

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. You ever smoked crack and looked at Nancy Reagan’s red dresses? They. are. stunning.

  2. An addiction to a substance is not a disease. Choosing to buy, prepare, and intake the substance all constitute voluntary actions. Not taking those substances would end the “disease”. People who are rotting away from cancer aren’t as lucky.

    1. The government should make possession of cancer illegal. Only then may we win the war on cancer!

    2. It’s more like an allergy, or an OCD.

    3. Agreed, the disease model of addiction has been a disaster in many ways. It encourages abdication of responsibility on the part of the user, who blames the “disease” when he chooses to use again (“relapse”). Thus people are able to use their intoxicant of choice on occasion while still claiming they are “in recovery.” Also it implies that people cannot control themselves, thus allowing expansion of power and control by the “therapeutic state” which is an unholy alliance of medicine, the law, and (to a lesser extent) religion (12 step programs are inherently religious).

  3. The man knows his business. “Just Say No” was a slogan slapped on a crony-greasing slush fund. That’s what “nuanced,” “complexity”-recognizing programs are.

  4. If stopping addiction is something Gil wants to address, how about he start with the addiction to power and control that seems to overtake anyone placed into the job he currently occupies? This addiction seems to completely eradicate any capability for rational thought on the part of the victim, turning them into a mindless mannequin condemned to repeat the same ridiculous statements over, and over, and over and over and. . .well, you get the picture.

  5. This clown Gil was on C-SPAN the other day for the release of the latest NIDA drug use survey. He came off as a woefully ignorant buffoon, misstating the facts, & relishing his power.

    1. A former police chief doing that? I’m shocked.

  6. Busting them is the compassionate thing to do.

    Fuck you, douchebag. Prison isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. Even you.

    1. Oh, I would definitely wish prison on him. General population, too.

  7. People like this, or for that matter, anybody who has the power to lock someone up, or write laws to lock people up, should be required to spend at least a month in the County Jail as a precondition to their employment.

  8. I like drugs. man.

  9. I don’t know which brand of drug warrior is worse – the rightist get-tough-on-crime variety or the leftist compassionate bureaucrat variety. The sheer level of condescension and almost Pavlovian instinct to bring up addiction anytime drugs are being discussed makes me lean toward the latter. Is it too far of a stretch to consider that the majority of people incarcerated for violating drug laws might not all be addicts? Does that even matter to them? This is what truly makes me cringe whenever a leftist talks about legalizing any drug because it inevitably is followed by, “oh, and we’d tax it and use that revenue to pay for treatment.” Getdafuckouttahere with that shit. The whole “I care about incarcerated African-Americans and their fatherless children” bit is a total fucking ruse as if any of them ever actually give a shit about injustice. Just come out and admit that taking other people’s money gives you a throbbing hard-on and that legalizing the drug trade would allow for a whole lot of other people’s money to be taken. The honesty would be truly refreshing for a change.

    1. I agree. Lefties don’t want to stop the war on drugs because it is a waste of money, they just want to spend the money rehabilitating users and putting them on the gov’t payroll either by welfare or jobs created to make former addicts feel useful. Whereas the right thinks taking drugs shouldn’t be a choice, the left thinks it isn’t actually a conscious choice. Neither side allows for a world with enough personal choice and responsibility to allow drugs to be legal and people to own up to their behavior.

      1. I’m not sure the “left” thinks anything is a conscious choice. It’s just that with psychoactive they can gloss over the difference between mental effects of substances and the behavior of drug taking as an effect of some condition.

    2. While I am sure there are many leftists who do think that way, ascribing any particular way of thinking to “the left” as a monolithic bloc is just as dumb as saying that all libertarians are just republicans who want to smoke pot.

  10. I don’t believe in addiction.

    I only believe in free will.

    1. I believe in both.

  11. If you support prohibition then you are NOT a conservative.
    Conservative principles, quite clearly, ARE:

    1) Limited, locally controlled government.
    2) Individual liberty coupled with personal responsibility.
    3) Free enterprise.
    4) A strong national defense.
    5) Fiscal responsibility.

    Prohibition is actually an authoritarian War on the Constitution and all civic institutions of our great nation.

    It’s all about the market and cost/benefit analysis. Whether any particular drug is good, bad, or otherwise is irrelevant! As long as there is demand for any mind altering substance, there will be supply; the end! The only affect prohibiting it has is to drive the price up, increase the costs and profits, and where there is illegal profit to be made criminals and terrorists thrive.

    The cost of criminalizing citizens who are using substances no more harmful than similar things that are perfectly legal like alcohol and tobacco, is not only hypocritical and futile, but also simply not worth the incredible damage it does.

    Afghani farmers produce approx. 93% of the world’s opium which is then, mostly, refined into street heroin then smuggled throughout Eastern and Western Europe.

    Both the Taliban and the terrorists of al Qaeda derive their main income from the prohibition-inflated value of this very easily grown crop, which means that Prohibition is the “Goose that laid the golden egg” and the lifeblood of terrorists as well as drug cartels. Only those opposed, or willing to ignore this fact, want things the way they are.


    Prohibition provides America’s sworn enemies with financial “aid” and tactical “comforts”. The Constitution of the United States of America defines treason as:
    “Article III / Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

    Support for prohibition is therefor an act of treason against the Constitution, and a dire threat to the nation’s civic institutions.

    The Founding Fathers were not social conservatives who believed that citizens should be subordinate to any particular narrow religious moral order. That is what the whole concept of unalienable individual rights means, and sumptuary laws, especially in the form of prohibition, were something they continually warned about.

    It is way past time for us all to wise up and help curtail the dangerous expansions of federal police powers, the encroachments on individual liberties, and the increasing government expenditure devoted to enforcing the unworkable and dangerous policy of drug prohibition.

    To support prohibition you have to be either ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, insane or corrupt.

    * The US national debt has increased at an average rate of $3,000,000000 per day since 2006. http://www.usdebtclock.org/
    * The unemployment rate has increased by 7300 per day since 2008.
    * The loss of manufacturing jobs has been 1400 per day since 2006.
    * Without the legalized regulation of opium products Afghanistan will continue to be a bottomless pit in which to throw countless billions of tax dollars and wasted American lives.
    * The hopeless situation in Afghanistan is helping to destabilize it’s neighbor, Pakistan, which is a country with nuclear weapons.
    * The mayhem in Mexico has deteriorated so badly that it’s bordering on farcical.

    There is nothing conservative about prohibition, which enlists the most centralized state power in displacement of domestic and community roles. There is everything authoritarian and subversive about this policy which has incinerated American traditions such as Freedom and Federalism with its puritanical flames. Any person seeking to insure and not further compromise the safety of their family and of their neighbors must not only repudiate prohibition but help spearhead its abolition.

    We will always have adults who are too immature to responsibly deal with tobacco, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, various prescription drugs, gambling and even food. Our answer to them should always be: “Get a Nanny, and stop turning the government into one for the rest of us!”

    1. Conservative? This is a libertarian site. Libertarians are not conservative (although I can’t speak for everyone). Libertarians are best described as “Classical Liberals”, or even anarchists. Conservatives are statists.

      Afghani farmers produce approx. 93% of the world’s opium which is then, mostly, refined into street heroin then smuggled throughout Eastern and Western Europe.

      You have a source for that? I was under the impression that Turkey grows most of the opium in the World, for the pharmaceutical companies.

    2. Don’t they have character limits on these comments?

      1. Apparently not. It seems any number of characters may comment here.

  12. He explains that it’s “incredibly simplistic” to “characterize the drug efforts of the government…with some type of definition of where the money is going.”

    With all due respect, WTF?

  13. The Grand Liberaltarian Alliance marches on!

    What a payoff for the Liberaltarians: More money on enforcement, more people arrested, and more people forced into some kind of weird open-ended “treatment”.

  14. Just you wait… Obama’s going to prove he’s not as bad as Bush. Any day now.

    We believe!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.