Ending the ‘Drug War’ in a second term

Law enforcement officials in Chicago held a news conference last week after a major drug bust.
Law enforcement officials in Chicago held a news conference last week after a major drug bust.
Associated Press

When Barack Obama sought the presidency four years ago, his to-do list was as ambitious as any agenda voters had seen in a long while. As he seeks another term, the president can at least say he’s had enormous success in racking up historic accomplishments.

But what does he do for an encore? Or more accurately, what is it the president can offer the electorate in terms of campaign promises for a second term, beyond simply vowing to protect the gains and progress we’ve seen since January 2009?

Obviously, immigration policy remains a top Obama priority, along with systemic changes to U.S. energy policy. Marc Ambinder, however, reports on another issue of significance to the president, which generally doesn’t get as much national attention.

According to ongoing discussions with Obama aides and associates, if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War.

Don’t expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn’t expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.

Not too long ago, policymakers were afraid to touch this issue, fearing that any changes to the “drug war” would necessarily lead to the typical partisan attacks.

But it’s clear that the political landscape has changed as American attitudes have evolved, and elected leaders with reform ideas have far less reason to be afraid of pushback.

In 2009, for example, Obama’s choice to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, said the whole concept of a “war on drugs” is misguided, and called for a massive shift in emphasis away from incarceration and towards treatment. And Kerlikowske, despite this progressive perspective, was confirmed easily.

Ambinder added that “a consensus is emerging among academics, police officers, lawyers, and even some politicians about what not to do” – which is to say, rejecting the status quo of the last few decades.

I realize that whatever Obama wants Republicans must reject with knee-jerk vitriol, regardless of merit or common sense, but it’s nevertheless good to hear that, if the president does get a second term, reforming ineffective and unproductive drug laws will at least be a top priority.


Ending the 'Drug War' in a second term