Even though drug enforcement leaders have warned for more than twenty years that "we can't arrest our way out of the drug problem," every year we arrest more people for drug offenses than the year before. Last year we arrested over 1.8 million Americans, more than three times the number arrested for all violent crimes combined. Now about one-quarter of those in prison are serving drug sentences. As the centerpiece of our anti-drug strategy, arrests and imprisonment have failed: high school seniors report that drugs are easier for them to get now than in the 1970s and 1980s.
Scientists and drug treatment specialists - even police chiefs, judges and prosecutors - agree that drug addiction is a disease. But in almost every city it is hard for people to get good treatment for their addictions. Waiting lists - often very long ones - to enter programs are the rule. According to the White House, about 20 million Americans need substance abuse treatment but don't get it. Why put drug addicts in prison for using drugs when what they need, and deserve, is good drug treatment? Why do we tolerate the police arresting drug addicts for using drugs? Isn't the definition of the disease of addiction that you can't stop using drugs? When you think about it, isn't it wrong to prosecute a person because of their disease?
But in fact, most drug users are not addicts, they are adult marijuana smokers. Why do we arrest them? To tell them that marijuana is harmful? To "send a message" to children that they should not use drugs or that drugs are dangerous? Isn't that the job of parents, schools, and public health authorities?
Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years. The rate of drowning has declined, but we not because we jail swimmers, or swimming pool contractors and operators, to warn children about the hazards of swimming. Of course, in most parts of the country the government hires life guards at beaches and pools to save swimmers in the face of the ever-present danger.
In fact, we don't arrest anyone to warn about most dangerous behaviors. To teach the safer use of dangerous behaviors involving firearms, alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, motor cycles, private airplanes, or ski resorts, we use education, insurance, regulation and taxation to reduce injuries and save lives. With most activities, we recognize that doing dangerous things is not "wrongful" and does not deserve punishment. Why is arresting people a good way to send a message about health and public safety when it comes to drug use?
And while I'm not in love with the ideas of taxation and regulation, I'd point out to my fellow Libertarians that they represent far better alternatives than prison, systematic destruction of civil liberties, and dead pets.
This would be change I could believe in. Listening, Barack?