Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006, according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank.Of course, if we did that in the U.S., we’d probably have to close quite a few prisons.
“Now instead of being put into prison, addicts are going to treatment centers and they’re learning how to control their drug usage or getting off drugs entirely,” report author Glenn Greenwald, a former New York State constitutional litigator, said during a press briefing at Cato last week.
Under the Portuguese plan, penalties for people caught dealing and trafficking drugs are unchanged; dealers are still jailed and subjected to fines depending on the crime. But people caught using or possessing small amounts—defined as the amount needed for 10 days of personal use—are brought before what’s known as a “Dissuasion Commission,” an administrative body created by the 2001 law.
The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.That’s a refreshing change, given that the 5% of the population that’s incarcerated and their families and friends might well wonder if the government is at war with its own people. There are indeed some nasty sociopaths out there who need to be locked up to protect everyone else. But there aren’t enough of those to account for the U.S. prison population. The “war on drugs” accounts for many of the rest.
In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.
“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”
It’s interesting that this article was published in the WSJ, not generally known as a left-wing rag. Kerlikowske, for that matter, is a former police chief. As is customary with newspaper articles, it ends with a counter view:
James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest law-enforcement labor organization, said that while he holds Mr. Kerlikowske in high regard, police officers are wary.Indeed, even people at the highest levels of government need to learn that for themselves. But the solution to Pasco’s conundrum for the “war on drugs” is to change the laws. That alone won’t do it, however. Just throwing convicts back on the street after being in prison with real criminals wouldn’t be nearly as good as implementing programs to reintegrate them into the community and to prevent others from getting drug habits in the first place. Kerlikowske’s approach is needed at the same time, and even before, changing the laws.
“While I don’t necessarily disagree with Gil’s focus on treatment and demand reduction, I don’t want to see it at the expense of law enforcement. People need to understand that when they violate the law there are consequences.”
For those who say it can’t work, try this article about Norway, which actually provides public assistance for drug addicts instead of locking them up, yet does not have any large population of addicts, and is actually growing its economy during the current economic depression.