Obama Says Jailing Nonviolent Drug Offenders Is 'Counterproductive'

By McCarton Ackerman 01/23/15

The president has continued to voice his concerns with the ongoing failure of the war on drugs.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama is continuing to speak out against the war on drugs and to call for a reform in policies.

Obama recently declared in a new YouTube interview that treating drug user as a criminal problem is “counterproductive” and that nonviolent offenders should receive treatment over jail time.

Obama’s recent moves have included calling on policymakers at all levels to look at ways to reduce the number of people currently incarcerated, working with the Department of Education to reduce “zero tolerance” discipline policies regarding drugs and supporting efforts in Congress to reduce punitive sentencing. He also restated his stance that the federal government will not interfere with the legal marijuana industry in states that have permitted it.

“We still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we're not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue,” Obama said. “What I am doing at the federal level is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating nonviolent drug offenders. Instead of focusing on treatment, we’ve treated this exclusively as a criminal problem. It’s been counterproductive and it has been devastating in a lot of minority communities.”

Although Obama has not endorsed legalizing marijuana at the federal level, he made headlines last January by stating in a New Yorker interview that he didn’t believe pot was more dangerous than alcohol. He also added that nonviolent users shouldn’t be locked up “for long stretches of jail time,” but expressed anger over his belief that “middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot and poor kids do.”

In 2013, the Obama administration requested over $10.7 billion to help support drug education programs and also increase treatment availability throughout the country. He also made amendments to the Affordable Care Act which require insurance companies in its marketplace to cover treatment for substance abuse disorders.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.