The Obama administration’s drug czar admitted Wednesday that locking people up won’t keep them from using drugs, but he stopped short of renouncing punitive policies that have made America’s long war on drugs widely unpopular.
Michael Botticelli, head of the Obama administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a post on the White House website that the government’s new drug control strategy “rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem. Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder — one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover.”
It’s a striking piece of rhetoric for someone in Botticelli’s position, though not a risky one, given that about three-fourths of Americans say the war on drugs has been a failure.
The strategy, released Wednesday, calls for reforms that would move the government’s drug-control efforts from the police precinct and courtroom to the treatment center. According to a report outlining the strategy, the administration supports “alternatives to incarceration,” like drug courts, where judges can send defendants to rehabilitation clinics instead of prison. It endorses needle-exchange programs, which supply clean syringes to people who inject heroin — an attempt to slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. And it provides funding to states trying to help former prisoners find work and get on with their lives.
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