Drug Policy

Obama's 'Innovative, Compassionate, and Evidence-Based Drug Policies'


Rafael Lemaitre, communications director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, puts a "progressive" gloss on the Obama administration's approach to politically incorrect intoxicants. Lemaitre begins his Huffington Post piece by quoting Providence, Rhode Island, police Lt. Daniel Gannon, "who told us something many Americans might not expect from a law enforcement officer." According to Gannon, "not every drug offender belongs in prison," which is only "for the bad guys." Where do the nonbad drug offenders belong? In court-ordered treatment, of course. And if they refuse such treatment, perhaps because they do not view their drug use as a problem? Well, then they belong in prison. How else can we force them to accept our help? The Obama administration, Lemaitre says, is all about "innovative, compassionate and evidence-based drug policies" like that one, which conceal the iron fist of the state inside a doctor's plastic glove:

We have pursued a variety of alternatives that abandon an unproductive enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach to drug control and acknowledge we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem and, further, that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, not some "moral failing." This strategy is vital because by recognizing drug addiction as a chronic and progressive disease, we can actually work to prevent and treat substance use disorders and break the cycle of drug-related crime.

Here Lemaitre adopts the language of many drug policy reformers, proving once again the dangers of medicalizing drug policy: Because drug users suffer from a "progressive disease" that impairs their will, the government need not respect their choices, which are not really choices at all. To the contrary, it has a moral duty to force them into treatment for their own good. Furthermore, the people who supply drugs are "the bad guys" because they are making people sick or preventing them from recovering. Unless they are lucky enough to be addicts themselves, thereby qualifying for the government's compassion, they deserve to rot in jail. Lemaitre nevertheless professes to be troubled by the size of the prison population and by the fact that "African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses." 

"Since day one," Lemaitre declares, "the Obama Administration has been engaged in an unprecedented government-wide effort to reform our nation's drug policies and restore balance to the way we deal with the drug problem." But the balance he is talking about, to the extent that it has any practical implications at all, involves mixing different forms of coercion, as opposed to reconsidering whether it is appropriate to use force in this context. "It makes more sense to prevent and treat drug problems before they become chronic than simply to legalize drugs altogether or keep filling our prisons with drug offenders over and over again," he writes. "Neither of these extremes are sound or humane drug policies." If you can't understand why it is inhumane to stop locking people up for engaging in consensual transactions with other adults, you cannot claim to be as enlightened as Barack Obama.

For more on the ways Obama has disappointed supporters who hoped he would de-escalate the war on drugs, see my story in the October issue of Reason.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]