Saturday, May 15, 2010

Drug reformer takes the fight to Washington

While the Obama administration has toned down the language and ferocity of its drug policies, there has been no essential change. About 64% of its budget is still being spent on interdiction and incarceration.

Reformer Ethan Nadelmann recently testified before the U.S. House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, (alongside other contributors such as the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy [also known as the drug czar], Gil Kerlikowske). Nadelmann's full testimony is well worth a read, but here are some quotes:
The United States now ranks first in the world in per capita incarceration rates, with less than 5% of the world's population but nearly 25% of the world's prison population. Roughly 500,000 people are behind bars tonight for a drug law violation. That's ten times the total in 1980, and more than all of western Europe (with a much larger population) incarcerates for all offenses. More than half of federal prisoners are there for drug law violations; relatively few are kingpins and virtually none are queenpins.

Yet, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and arresting millions of Americans, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available throughout the country...
And referring to the continuing emphasis on drug war methods, he said:
A 1994 RAND study commissioned by the U.S. Army and ONDCP found treatment to be 10 times more effective at reducing drug abuse than drug interdiction, 15 times more effective than domestic law enforcement, and 23 times more effective than trying to eradicate drugs at their source. A 1997 SAMHSA study found that treatment reduces drug selling by 78%, shoplifting by almost 82% and assaults by 78%. 

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