By Doug Porter
It turns out that Making America Great Again involves rolling back drug policy and enforcement to the 1960s.
The first step in such a reversal involves denying science. The second step involves ginning up the racism. The final step involves reviving mass incarceration.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it clear in a speech in Richmond, Va on March 15, that enforcement is now the primary tool in responding to drug abuse, and, apparently, casual use.
I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.
While nobody I’m aware of is advocating for selling pot in corner stores, there is evidence, via a UCSD study suggesting medical marijuana legalization can reduce opioid-related hospitalizations. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states with medical marijuana laws have lower death rates from opiate overdose.
The Trump administration’s approach to this sort of research–and research in general–has been proposals to cut funding.
He wants to cut NIH funding by $1.2 billion this year. Next year, under his proposed budget, the agency’s budget would be slashed by another $5.8 billion. Trump’s aides have defended the cuts, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the government has long been wasting money on overhead for universities and other institutions that receive NIH grants. But researchers across the country have warned of devastating consequences if Trump’s proposed cuts were actually enacted.
A Bi-Polar Approach
As the Atlantic’s City Lab points out, the Trump administration appears to have a “split personality” where it comes to drug policy.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been appointed to head up a commission on combating drug addiction. For all his other faults, Christie does have a track record for a humane approach toward dealing with drug addiction.
This contrasts with the tough guy attitude embodied in Sessions’ pronouncements.
City Lab quotes the Wall Street Journal:
The tug of war in the new administration reflects its two different constituencies: traditional conservatives, who favor a crackdown on crime that the president frequently links to illegal immigration and urban areas, and the white, working-class and rural communities who welcome a compassionate focus on the opioid epidemic that has ravaged their neighborhoods.
…And goes on to say:
Translation: White people will get rehabilitation. Black and Latino people will get incarceration.
Or, as the Drug Policy Alliance deputy director Michael Collins said in the WSJ article: “We’re seeing the beginning of a new war on drugs.”
While origins of the “other” narrative in drug disparagement go all the way back to the middle ages, it is bound up in US history with responses to immigration and racial subjugation.
Read more here.