Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Less War, More Sentencing Sanity?

Today, over at The Grio, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske spells out a new approach to the war on drugs: 

In May, President Obama announced this administration's 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, a comprehensive and balanced plan built upon the experience and insights of people who deal with drug issues on a daily basis across this nation.

This new approach to the effort to curb drug use and its consequences is grounded in three basic truths:

Drug use takes a terrible toll on public health, and requires a public health policy response on the same scale as our public safety response to the issue. The U.S. public health and healthcare systems need to assume a larger role in addressing drug use, and addiction treatment programs need to be integrated into mainstream medicine.

Because the drug problem stems primarily from drug use within the United States, effective drug policy must begin at home. We must and will continue multi-national, collaborative efforts to reduce the international production and trafficking of drugs. But we must also realize that the most promising solution to the U.S. drug problem starts right here: in curbing our enormous demand for drugs.

We now have an unprecedented number of scientifically evaluated tools and best practices to use in response to the drug problem. Evidence-based policing programs can disrupt drug markets. Prevention research has shown us how communities can more effectively protect their young people from substance use, and advances in pharmaceutical and psychological treatment offer new hope to those struggling with the disease of addiction.
Kerlikowske also pinpoints crack cocaine sentencing laws as an area ripe for reform right now:
ONDCP is committed to pursuing evidence-based policies grounded in objective facts and data, which can help counter harmful racial stereotypes. For instance, 85 percent of Federal crack cocaine defendants are African-American, and the existing mandatory minimum disparity between crack and powder cocaine cannot be justified based on pharmacological differences.
This administration is actively working with Congress to promote equity in penalties for cocaine-related crimes, while retaining the tools needed by law enforcement to protect communities from the violence associated with drug trafficking. There's an obvious incentive to change laws with disproportionate racial impact, but an additional benefit to promoting equitable sentencing is that it will increase the public's confidence in our criminal justice system. That confidence is critical, because the criminal justice system has an important role to play in a balanced approach to the drug problem.
You can check out the administration's full (and lengthy) plan for transitioning to a saner approach to the war on drugs here.  And you can read FAMM's thoughts on the new strategy here.