Some have hailed the Obama administration’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy as a revolutionary shift toward a public health approach to the nation’s drug problems. Others have panned it as nothing new. There are actually advances to applaud in the new strategy and budget, in terms of both rhetoric and substance. Those positive steps should be acknowledged. But the extent to which the 2012 strategy represents a break from the past should not overstated.

For decades, the unfortunate hallmarks of U.S. drug policy have been an extreme commitment to arrests and incarceration, inadequate access to treatment, and unrealistic expectations about what interdiction and overseas supply-control efforts can achieve, combined with blindness to the damage they can cause. The Obama administration deserves credit for at least acknowledging the wasteful excesses of domestic drug enforcement and for taking steps to bolster treatment. But talk of a revolution in U.S. drug policy is still premature.

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