Democratic Convention 2020

Democratic Party Platform Calls for End to Drug War, But Not Really

Substituting drug courts for prosecution unfortunately still often leads to incarceration.


The Democratic Party Platform for 2020 is blunt about how it feels about the war on drugs:

It is past time to end the failed "War on Drugs," which has imprisoned millions of Americans—disproportionately Black people and Latinos—and hasn't been effective in reducing drug use.

That's slightly stronger wording than the 2016 party platform, which also acknowledged that the war on drugs disproportionately impacts minorities and doesn't stop drug use, but that's really the only difference. Four years later, the Democrats are once again promising to chart a new federal course on cannabis policy and extolling the virtues of "prioritiz[ing] prevention and treatment over incarceration."

While the platform says that "Democrats believe no one should be in prison solely because they use drugs," it doesn't call for the legalization of any drugs. As in 2016, the platform's position on cannabis takes a cue from federalism: respect state laws, reschedule cannabis out of Schedule I (the category for drugs deemed dangerous, addictive, and non-medical). This is apparently the boldest position Democrats are willing to take, perhaps because Joe Biden does not support recreational marijuana legalization. Regardless of why, the official party platform remains behind the curve of the majority of Americans.

Instead of actually ending the drug war, the 2020 platform's emphasis takes the same approach as the 2016 platform in calling for the expanded use of drug courts and diversion programs "for those struggling with substance use disorders."

The problem: Drug courts, in practice, have been shown that they do not reduce policing encounters; some evidence supports the idea that they reduce incarceration rates or recidivism. A 2018 report from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) analyzed drug court systems in the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and found many cases where drug courts actually increased, rather than reduced, a drug users' interactions with police and the criminal justice system. The SSRC analysis of five years of New York City drug courts determined that sentences for those who "failed" drug court were two-to-five times longer than those who just accepted a conventional sentence for drug possession. In other words, they would have been better off just pleading guilty.

The report found that the existence of drug courts in a community perversely causes police to focus on finding people to arrest for minor drug possession crimes, even absent evidence that these people actually had a drug addiction problem:

Evidence also suggests drug courts have led law enforcement to intensify its focus on people who use drugs but have either no or minor substance use disorders, which in turn has increased arrest and punishment for systematic drug use. A 2016 study of more than eight thousand cities and counties nationwide found evidence that local police increased attention to minor drug offenses in jurisdictions where drug courts were implemented.

Accordingly, research indicates many drug court participants do not have diagnosable or clinically significant substance use disorders and therefore are not in need of treatment.

And that's a big, fundamental problem with how the Democratic Party platform is approaching drug use. It is assuming that every single person who is using an illegal drug is addicted and needs intervention. In order the get access to drug court, users are often required to plead guilty, surrender their rights, and "confess" to having an addiction, even if they are in fact just casual users.

The Democratic Party, as an institution, remains unwilling to accept and tolerate the existence of non-problematic recreational drug use. If it can't even do this with cannabis, it's certainly not going to accept the same is true of other Schedule I drugs, which means it's not actually ready to end the war on drugs.

The Democrats say they don't want to see people incarcerated "solely for using drugs," but that's what happens if you test positive for drugs while enrolled in drug court: you get incarcerated. Drug courts and compulsory drug treatment programs are enforced by men with guns, and you can't end a war if you're not willing to stop pointing guns at people.


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  1. The Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional.

    Until a politician tries to repeal the CSA, these politicians are talking about drug deregulation and they are talking 99% bullshit.

    Even the Prohibitionist knew that they needed a Constitutional Amendment to ban a product or service (alcohol).

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  2. “If it can’t even do this with cannabis, it’s certainly not going to accept the same is true of other Schedule I drugs, which means it’s not actually ready to end the war on drugs.”

    Since cannabis has proven medical uses, it cannot legally be a schedule one drug.
    Why hasn’t the proverbial ‘someone’ filed suit in federal court to demand it’s removal? I’m looking at you, rich and powerful democrat politicians, rich and powerful Hollywood types, rich and powerful high tech tyrants.

    1. Heck, even that would be a better reason for impeachment than the weak tea they tried.

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    2. I like the idea. Make them defend its classification in court. Should be entertaining at least.

      Again, Trump should be able to, by himself, direct that marijuana’s classification under the CSA be changed. He should do so.

    3. There’s always such a suit working its way thru the legal process. The official line is that the medical uses are still unproven.

  3. The platform means jackshit. The GOP platform talks about reducing spending, for example. Let’s see what they actually do once elected. Will Biden move toward ending the drug war? I highly doubt it.

  4. They cannot even do that with vaping, carbonated beverages, or fatty food either. The Democrats are never going to give up micromanaging personal choices they disapprove of on principle.

    1. especially since they want us all to pay for everyone else’s healthcare. the spinach and kale police will be making routine home inspections this week.

  5. next piece will finally be “(D) Will Never End the Drug War” or are you on the perpetually-duped team too?

    1. What is the Republican party’s platform on drugs?

      1. Is this some of that whatboutism you allegedly hate so much, Tony?

        1. No, it’s not, but thanks for your concern.

          1. similar to (D) as neither party moves on it. why would they when both parties can suck millions of dollars from dummies either way?

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      2. I believe the direct quote is, “Drugs are bad mkay”.

  6. The 2016 Libertarian Party candidate opposed legalizing any drug other than weed. Not so different from the Dem platform on that issue.

    I think the 2020 LP candidate is back to hewing the traditional party line on drug legalization but she’s down with the identity politics and all that diversity, equity, inclusion affirmative action stuff.

    1. the difference being the Dems had a president already in office who could have (and should have) changed the classification, and a huge majority of supporters who wanted him to do so.

  7. It’s the same as every other plan to cut the government out of the loop – you need a government bureaucracy to oversee the process of cutting the government out of the loop. It’s why plans to cut the cost of government necessitate increasing the cost of government.

    1. And if there won’t be an official government bureaucracy, there’ll be an approved list of crony NGOs that will be empowered to deal with the issue, and kick back some of their operating income to the local political apparatus.

    2. note that as soon as the drug war was softened by a few percent with some states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, the statists had to launch a War on Human Trafficking to protect the revenue stream.

  8. The government is very against letting you ruin your own life. You need the government to help you with that.

  9. Yup. I call drug courts the “12 Step Caliphate”. Basically you have to pledge your allegiance to the gods of the spirits (“I am powerless to alcohol/drugs”). It’s not surprising what happens next.

    Having said that, rescheduling pot would be great progress and shouldn’t be discounted.

  10. Expecting democrats to tell the truth and not blow with the wind is ludicrous.

    Better to just remove them from power.

  11. If a referendum in Oklafuckinghoma can create one of the more liberal legal weed regimes. I think it’s time to stop being so old-timey cautious on the issue.

    Legalize all drugs, make healthcare universal and let people treat their addiction as a medical issue.

    1. If you mean “universal health care” in sense the Aussie’s system is built, well, yeah. Maybe

      1. What is the Aussie system? Looking at Aussie gov site for their health care system, it sounds a lot like the USA’s current one with private health insurance and a medicare system.

        1. It is similar in many ways. One of the differences, and it is a big one, is that the Aussie federal government funds a lot of hospitals, which are locally operated. These hospitals are free to all Aussies. There is a co-pay, unless the patient is very, very poor. Think of the typical $20 copay which most of us pay. I remember when I was younger, there were County-operated hospitals in many areas which formed a similar function.

          Two other points:

          1) Those who choose private insurance, whether from private, for profit, or a non-profit, or the government’s insurance company (which is actually a real non-profit, not dependent on government funds), get tax credits for doing so. This lessens the tax burden for those who provide for their own care.

          On the other hand, those who stay too long at the government trough, say past their early thirties, start paying more for the government services, depending on their income.

          One analyst describes the system, overall, as supporting low-income, primarily younger citizens, while encouraging citizens to purchase their own, private insurance.

          The last time I checked, WHO rated it third on the list of universal systems, in terms of meeting goals, and it is about 30% less expensive than our system. It also would not run into near as many constitutional issues compared to, say, trying to “install” the Canadian system in the US.

  12. Just remember President Obama chuckling when his supporters dared ask him to remove marijuana from the controlled substances list, even though the top 2 questions on his petition site were about that.

  13. Throwing people in jail for ingesting drugs: that’s violence.

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  15. the Democratic Party platform is…assuming that every single person who is using an illegal drug is addicted and needs intervention. In order the get access to drug court, users are often required to plead guilty, surrender their rights, and “confess” to having an addiction, even if they are in fact just casual users.

    The Democratic Party, as an institution, remains unwilling to accept and tolerate the existence of non-problematic recreational drug use.

    That last bit is the reason for the first. Because drugs are a problem, anybody willingly taking them is causing a problem. The only reason for treating them as something other than criminals or at least antisocial is to make it that they can’t help it. Therefore they need treatment.

    If it can’t even do this with cannabis,

    That’s the mindfuck of all this. We all know they understand that non-problematic, non-medical use of cannabis exists quite prominently, but they need to pretend in some contexts that it doesn’t, while simultaneously accepting it in other contexts. And by “contexts”, I’m not meaning circumstances of its use, but policy spheres. It has to simultaneously be OK and not-OK. OK for the state to derive revenues from while condemning it. Say…just like tobacco!

  16. Are these the same drug courts that Kamala actively sabotaged for political gain?

  17. “In order the get access to drug court, users are often required to plead guilty, surrender their rights, and “confess” to having an addiction, even if they are in fact just casual users.”
    That’s simply a variation on the status quo. Currently, people accused of drug crimes are pressured into plea bargains which admit guilt and pack their rap sheets with the lesser charges with still brand them as “cons” for the remainder of their lives. All that’s changed is that now they’re being tarred as addicts. It means they might lose somewhat less of their rights, but they’ll still lose access to certain jobs and housing options.

  18. There’s no difference between a Drug Court and a Witchcraft trial. May as well throw the defendant into a pool of water and if they sink they’re innocent and if they float they’re guilty. Because the only thing that Drug Court judges know about drugs and drug use comes from Drug War proapaganda.

  19. What I see with the Dem party lagging behind the public and pushing Drug Court instead of prison is a promotion and continuation of the Drug War while acknowledging that it isn’t effective.

    To me this argues for legal or illegal bribes keeping prohibition going because it profits at least some Dems to take such bribes and has so corrupted the system that no current politician can actually out it.

    It is a lie to say that Drug Court works. And yet that is the system that the USA is working towards because activists will choose “treatment” even coerced treatment for people who don’t want it (and “need” should be determined by want anyway) because it is more humane in their opinion.

    What activists need to start doing is drawing a firmer line about coerced treatment and insisting that coerced treatment is NOT the solution.

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