Lawmakers Unveil Drug War "Exit Strategy"

By Victoria Kim 05/16/13

The comprehensive guide is designed to help the US crawl out of the "deep drug war hole."

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Reps. O'Rourke and Jeffries advocate
drug policy reform.
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The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a federal legislative guide today, titled An Exit Strategy for the Failed War on Drugs, calling for drastic reform. It was released at a forum on Capitol Hill, cosponsored by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)—both of whom fought for local drug policy reform before becoming members of Congress. "The US has approximately 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prison population, largely resulting from failed policy decisions connected to the war on drugs," says Jeffries, in a DPA press release. "The over-criminalization phenomenon has cost us in lost human capital and economic productivity." The guide includes 75 legislative recommendations, touching upon everything in the drug war's reach related to civil rights, deficit reduction, law enforcement, foreign policy, sentencing and re-entry, effective drug treatment, public health and drug prevention education. It was drafted in part as a response to the Obama Administration's failure to shift federal resources away from the law enforcement-heavy "lock 'em up" approach that has dominated US drug policy over the last four decades, ever since President Nixon declared a "War on Drugs" in the '70s. "There's a saying, if you find yourself in a hole the first thing you should do is stop digging," Bill Piper, director of the DPA's office of national affairs, tells The Fix. "The US is in a deep drug war hole."

President Obama has promised to take drug policy in a new direction, focusing on evidence-based treatment and prevention. But critics say his administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has continued to focus the federal drug war budget and policies on treating drug use as a criminal issue, emphasizing enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration. The DPA hopes the new guide will help Washington get the message. "The first step policymakers should take is to stop making matters worse [by declaring] a moratorium on creating new crimes, increasing existing drug sentences, or criminalizing more drugs," Piper tells The Fix. "Then they should develop a comprehensive strategy for reducing the harms associated with both drugs and drug prohibition." O'Rourke is confident that reform is inevitable. "Eighteen states, via their legislature or popular ballot, have already made a decision to implement more rational drug laws," he tells us, "This issue is only going to move in one direction."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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