The Obama administration is taking a shift (albeit not a very drastic one) towards treating drug problems as a health issue and not as a criminal issue. On Wednesday the White House released their 2013 National drug Control Strategy, a 104-page document that outlines how treatment should become a focus for the nation's drug control policy.
Smoked marijuana/became President.
But at the same time, it doesn't really tell the police and DEA to stop arresting anybody either and continues a prohibition and war against marijuana (both recreational and medical).
A major point in the policy is noting that insurance companies will have to start footing the bill for people with chronic substance abuse problems as part of the Affordable Care Act. It also politely suggests that nonviolent drug crimes not lead to incarceration but instead put people into treatment programs. Other countries, like Portugal, have tried similar, successful approaches.
According to the report, 21.6 million Americans age 12 and up needed treatment for illicit drugs or alcohol abuse in 2011, but only 2.3 million received the help they needed. Based on that, the program calls for more treatment options and making those options more affordable to people who need them (or, lets be honest, people that are forced into them by the courts).
"I've spent my entire career in law enforcement," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy. "For most of those 37 years, like most people, I believed that a person addicted to drugs had a moral problem -- a failing, a lack of will. I was wrong. Addiction is not a moral failing."
But the policy also brings up things that sound like the same, tired old approaches and clichés, like repeatedly referring to the 'addictiveness' of cannabis. It also puts emphasis on school-based drug prevention programs like D.A.R.E that a lot of us in junior high the 80s and 90s grew up with. Specifically, the policy talks about the funding of the Above the Influence campaign, even boasting about the 1.7 million likes they have on Facebook.
It also continues the Drug-Free Communities program that sets 1,000 foot limits around schools and parks that can act as sentence enhancers for people caught with even minor amounts of cannabis.
The goal of the new initiatives is to drop teenage drug use by 15 percent and adults age 18-25 by 10 percent. They also hope to see a reduction in "chronic drug users" to the tune of 15 percent - all by 2015.
The policy statement is really more of a pep talk and update on the direction everyone should be headed and doesn't really change any laws. It's really just guidance to law enforcement and prosecutors going forward.
But it does that with some detail. It talks about maximizing federal support for drug law enforcement tasks like eradicating marijuana cultivation. Sounds scary (and it is), but surprisingly the policy seems to push law enforcement to use their resources on illegal, remote grows on private lands. They also talk about going after indoor grows, too - bragging about the DEA busting more than 2,500 grows in 2012 with more than 302,000 plants destroyed (not even a fraction of how much is still grown). It also discusses ramping up drugged driving campaigns and funneling more money into training police as drug recognition experts.
While interesting, it still isn't the official response to Colorado and Washington laws that voters, cannabis users, and state legislators in those states are waiting for.