Today Vice President Joe Biden announced Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske will coordinate national policy as Director of the Office of National Drug Control—otherwise known as America's Drug Czar. Biden said, "I've been a little disappointed the last eight years it hasn't gotten the attention that it should have gotten. But that's about to change." As with many of the sweeping announcements that have marked Barack Obama's first 50 days as president, it's worth asking: Is it? And will it be for the better?
This week THE ECONOMIST renewed its editorial argument, originally posited 20 years ago, for the legalization of controlled substances as “the least bad solution” to the growing global problem of drug addiction and its attendant criminality, but they acknowledge it’s likely to be an uphill legislative fight. As per Richie Spice: “Babylon, they don’t like it.”
It seems to me that regardless of where you stand in the debate, to start, weed has to be separated from harder drugs. Cannabis seems to be a little more on the caffeine, alcohol, nicotine side of the fence and maybe shouldn’t be lumped in with cocaine, heroin, etc.
But clearly there’s a problem—even with marijuana, growing violence along the U.S./Mexico border with rival drug syndicates battling it out for distribution supremacy coupled with the acknowledged dependence of the Afghan economy on opium poppy production probably mean that The Economist has it right—the “War on Drugs” has to be totally rethought, and likely recast as a public health rather than an interdiction problem. And as THE GUARDIAN reports, this view is backed up by the United Nations in its 2009 report from the Office of Drugs and Crime (Who knew they were even up on this stuff?).
Whenever I see a news item like this, I think of former Baltimore Mayor and current Howard University Law School Dean Kurt Schmoke—an early advocate of drug legalization who paid the political price for his prescience. When he did his cameo on Season 3 of The Wire during the “Hamsterdam” storyline, I have to think that while he was shooting his scenes he looked around, smiled, and thought: “I tried to tell y’all.”
UPDATED with Biden remarks March 11
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.