The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (more commonly known as the drug czar's office) released its 2012 National Drug Control Strategy today. The strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies. While the rhetoric is new -- reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure -- the substance of the actual policies is the same. In reality, the administration is prioritizing low-level drug arrests, trampling on state medical marijuana laws, and expanding supply-side interdiction approaches -- while doing nothing to actually reduce the harms of drug addiction and misuse, such as the escalating overdose epidemic.
U.S. voters, foreign leaders, and others hoping President Obama will bring change are going to be very disappointed. Despite lofty language about treating drug addiction as a health issue, the vast majority of Americans who want drug treatment do not have access to it. Instead, our nation's drug policies remain focused on punitive approaches -- such as arresting more than 750,000 Americans every year for nothing more than low-level marijuana possession. In fact, the Obama drug budget is nearly identical to that of previous presidents.
Moreover, the business-as-usual drug strategy flies in the face of an emerging national and international consensus in favor of the need for major drug policy reforms. Sixteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Roughly half of U.S. voters want to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and voters in Colorado and Washington will vote on the issue in November. A growing number of distinguished world leaders are calling for a debate on alternatives to the failed war on drugs. People want change, but the White House is offering more the same.