Drug Policy

Obama Supports a 'Public Health' Approach to Drugs, but Only in Theory


At a "town hall" event in Maryland last Friday, President Obama reaffirmed his support for a "public health" approach to illegal drugs while reiterating his opposition to "decriminalization." A graduate student asked him about replacing "the war on drugs" with "a more sophisticated and cost-effective program of rehabilitation such as the one in Portugal." Here is Obama's response:

I have stated repeatedly—and it's actually reflected in our most recent statement by our office of drug policy—that we need to have an approach that emphasizes prevention, treatment, a public health model for reducing drug use in our country. We've got to put more resources into that. We can't simply focus on interdiction because, frankly, no matter how good of a job we're doing when it comes to an interdiction approach, if there is high demand in this country for drugs, we are going to continue to see not only drug use but also the violence associated with the drug trade….

Just to make sure that I'm actually answering your question, am I willing to pursue a decriminalization strategy as an approach? No.

Let's overlook the gap between Obama's "public health" rhetoric and his drug control budgets, which are quite similar to his predecessor's (but bigger). Let's also forget that Obama once advocated marijuana decriminalization, then turned against it, then denied he had flip-flopped, and then reversed himself again. A charitable observer might surmise that Obama still does not think pot smokers should be arrested but is worried that the term decriminalization could be given a broader meaning. In this case, however, Obama's interlocutor asked him specifically about Portugal's decade-old policy, which does not treat drug users as criminals but instead pushes addicts into treatment through an administrative process. Although police do not arrest people for possession of small quantities, drug production and distribution remain illegal, and users receive "counseling." It is, in short, "an approach that emphasizes prevention, treatment, a public health model for reducing drug use." If Obama is against that policy, it is because he thinks drug users should be treated like criminals, either because they deserve it, because only the threat of jail will get them into treatment, or because punishing them will deter other potential addicts. He could try to defend that policy on one or more of those grounds. Instead he just keeps saying "public health" in the hope that it will disguise the intolerance and brutality of the war on drugs. 

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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  1. Once the state takes total ownership of healthcare, it probably won’t really matter whether drug use is considered a criminal matter or a public health concern.

  2. No no no. What Obama means is he supports “getting away with it” when your young, then buckling down, kicking the habit and running for president. Its a 3 step process.

  3. Does anyone remember the Dave Chappelle episode with Rick James?

    “See, I never just did things just to do them, c’mon I mean, what I’m gonna do just all of the sudden just jump up and grind my feet in somebody’s couch like it’s something to do? Come on, I got a little more sense than that. …Yeah, I remember grinding my feet into Eddie’s couch.”

    1. Cocaine is a hell of a drug!


      1. What did the five fingers say to the face? SLAP! I’m Rick James, bitch!

  4. Basically he said, “It’s a great idea that works. Am I going to do it? No.”

    1. Well, it’s the shit that worked for him when he was running for President. Make the questioner feel like Obama really understands him, and then the questioner will assume that, deep down, Obama really agrees with him even if he can’t say so yet– and even if he does the some trick with someone on the other side of the issue.

      1. Obama does what Kerry never could.

        1. Run a successful presidential campaign against George W. Bush?

      2. When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies.

    2. According to the DEA website, it doesn’t work, and Portugal is a hell-hole overrun with violence.

      I know, I know.

  5. There is too much money flowing in to the coffers of the politicians from the profits illicit pharmaceuticals provide to the distributors and producers. Clinton and Obama benefit from it.

    A Public Health approach would reduce use and therefore, profits to fuel the politician’s re-election pot.

    1. I had to read this like three times before I realized that I shouldn’t waste my time.

    2. There is too much money flowing in to the coffers of the politicians from the profits power illicit pharmaceuticals provide to the distributors and producers police unions. Clinton and Obama benefit from it.


  6. Just to make sure that I’m actually answering your question, am I willing to pursue a decriminalization strategy as an approach? No.

    “Just to make sure that I’m actually answering your question truthfully: am I willing to continue a strategy of pursuing drug users and criminalize their non-violent behavior while paying lip service to other approaches? Yes.”

    1. +1

  7. Thank you, Mr Obama, for constantly setting low personal standards and then failing to achieve them!

    In The Land Formally Known As Free, all citizens have been stripped of their 4th amendment rights and are now totally subordinate to a corporatized, despotic government with a heavily armed and corrupt, militarized police force whose often deadly intrusions into their homes and lives are condoned by an equally corrupt, spineless and reprobate judiciary.

  8. At a “town hall” event in Maryland last Friday, President Obama reaffirmed his support for a “public health” approach to illegal drugs while reiterating his opposition to “decriminalization.”

    Serious question: Why would this surprise anyone?

    1. Maybe because the question was earnestly asked in the first place?

      1. What was I thinking? Let me rephrase.

        This shouldn’t surprise anyone but Obama’s stubborn, blinkered supporters.

  9. Once again: Require every congresscreature, staffer, and administration weenie to state under oath every psychoactive substance they have ever ingested or witnessed being ingested.

    1. Legalize the compiled list.

      1. Outstanding.

        1. And randomly drug test the sonsabitches.

          1. Legalize anything detected.

          2. While we’re fantasizing: And randomly inject the sonsabitches with their drugs of choice.

            Sonsabitches. Whew. I feel better now.

    2. Rich, there is one major flaw in your plan; it assumes that at least a significant fraction of members of congress would not commit perjury.

      1. I admitted it’s a pipe dream fantasy.

  10. So what does a libertarian find more loathsome?

    Public Health or the Drug War?

    One is reminded of C.S. Lewis: Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

    1. Yeah, but they also say the Drug War is for our own good.

      1. Yeah, but some of the Public Health bastards are actually sincere tyrants. There’s the rub.

    2. I am unable to differentiate between “good” and “bad” or “less evil” statism.

  11. Threadjack:

    I just got a funny looking coin from a vending machine: It’s gold, says it’s $1, and has young lady with a small baby on her back.

    When did we go Canadian with our money?

    1. Gold, eh?

      1. Well, gold-ish…

        Ok, it’s got a brass patina on it.

    2. You’re not familiar with the Sacagawea?

      1. It’s got “great law of peace” on the back.

        All our money should have “Bad Motherfucker” on it.

        1. Yeah, looks like there are four versions of it.

          1. Mine is the third from the left.

      2. Oh, and yeah I remember hearing of the Sacagawea dollar. I thought it was an April fools’ joke. So they actually made these things… and they’re legal tender?

        If I wanted batty women and funny looking animals on my money, I’d move to Canada.

        1. Canadians prefer coins because they are both more portable and harder to counterfeit than the hockey pucks the country originally used.

        2. Funny lookin’ how? Funnier than most, yeah?

        1. Shit, I could have seen that coming… I mean if I hadn’t ignored the vague reports of this “Sacagawea” dollar as a national joke.

      3. What symbolism! Statutory rape, slavery, bigamy, and death at a young age.

        Yup. That’s about right for today’s dollar.

  12. I stand by my assertion that the only difference between conservatives and progressives on the issue of drugs is that one side favors incarceration while the other favors institutionalization. Thank you, Mr. President, for giving me yet another piece of rock solid evidence to present your loyal flock of sheep with whenever they attempt to argue that their position is somehow preferable and not just a bowdlerized status quo.

  13. Obama never gets very far at all ahead of legislative reality. That explains a great many things about his public policy statements.

    By all means, bash away. The president is after all a power hungry despot who must be defeated… who should solve all your problems for you.

    1. B-. Above average use of passive-aggressiveness, sarcasm, and blind partisanship.

      1. B-, but if he ramps it up, maybe he can be President one day!

    2. Obama never gets very far at all ahead of legislative reality

      Was that the “hope” part, then? ‘Cause it sure isn’t a change.

  14. As much as I hate, hate, hate the “public health” [sic] approach to drugs, I do hate, you know, putting people in jail and in danger of their lives a lot more…but what I hate most is the smarmy, self-righteous, “let me be clear that I’m an adult” lines of bullshit Obama regularly uses on this issue when he’s an admitted drug user. You would think being as fortunate as he is might make him realize exactly how much he could have lost.

    1. I would just like a President to say, “I think drugs should be legalized, but in the end, I’m just the president, and that would require a total legislative act with the active participation of all three branches of government, and I don’t see that happening soon… but I’ll do my best.”

      1. Oh, and he should would veto any bill that moved the bill in the wrong direction. That he could do.

        And fire Eric Holder. He could do that too.

        1. should read: veto any bill the moved the ball in the wrong direction.

          Preview button, use it x3.

      2. Open himself up to god knows what form of political attack with no benefit… Not how he rolls.

        1. Although, it would be shifting blame to everyone else (justifiably, for once), which is exactly how he rolls.

      3. I would settle for a lot less at this point: just stop making light of the destruction of millions of lives and the squandering of billions of dollars.

    2. You may be interested to know that a Pulitzer worthy mainstream media outlet is on this aspect of the story.

  15. I love all Wars. The easiest way to drain the Treasury and fuck over the taxpayer.

    1. You and I are so much alike!

      1. Like twin brothers! — thanks, George.

  16. In other words, our nation’s most powerful Liberal thinks recreational drug users belong in psychiatric wards.

    1. First they said the conservatives were crazy, and no one protested …

    2. And this surprises you, because…?

    3. Sounds like Obama wants the Drug War we have now, plus government re-education camps.

  17. Latest punch in the groin– almost unbelievable, but here it is. this is from January, but I don’t recall seeing it on H&R. supposedly, Tennessee State is investigating.


    If the video doesn’t play, try this link:


    1. …the victim here — was it Rodney KING or Darren RING?!

  18. The War on Drugs failed $1 Trillion ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and read more on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot…..-2011.html

    1. “This money could have been used…”

      What money? Haven’t you been paying attention to the debt target reality show?

  19. I don’t see what’s so hard about understanding Obama’s answer. It just means he wants more money for prevention & treatment, in addition to whatever else is already going on.

  20. Decrim is not about the drug properties. It is what allows police to threaten an arrestee with a felony unless he/she will help them set up someone else, a dangerous business the police would rather not do themselves. Search on ‘Rachel Hoffman’ for an example of the danger.

  21. Blah Blah Blah more hot political air lol.


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