The Obama Administration's drug control policy on auto-pilot

27 April 2011

In a widely watched You Tube video, U.S. President Barack Obama is asked whether or not the drug war may in fact be counterproductive. Instead of the resounding NO that would have come from any of his recent predecessors, Obama responded: “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” He then qualified his remarks by adding, “I am not in favor of legalization.” Nonetheless, even acknowledging the legitimacy of debate on U.S. drug policy is a significant shift from the past, when successive administrations stifled discussion and routinely labeled anyone promoting alternative approaches to the so-called U.S. “war on drugs” as dangerous and surreptitiously promoting massive drug use and poisoning America’s youth.

With over two years in office, the Obama administration has had time to begin to make its mark on the government’s domestic and international drug policies. But has the welcome change in tone been matched by a change in policies? The track record to date is disappointing, with far more continuity than change. The Obama administration, apparently less fearful of being criticized as “soft on drugs,” has ratcheted down the rhetoric and has placed greater emphasis on the problem of demand and problematic drug use. Some necessary but modest changes have also taken place with respect to domestic drug policy. Yet broader drug policy reforms at the domestic level remain elusive and in the international sphere the U.S. “war on drugs” continues apace.

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