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Thomas Jefferson Law Professor Discusses U.S. Transition from ‘Drug War’ to ‘Drug Truce’

October 08, 2012

In 2011, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske claimed he was shifting U.S. drug policy from a "drug war" to a "public health approach." On Oct. 8, Professor Alex Kreit, the director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, visited the law school to discuss necessary policy reforms that might aid the federal government in truly ending “the drug war” and implementing its so-called “drug truce.”

Since President Richard Nixon first coined the term “war on drugs” in the 70s and President Ronald Reagan intensified its efforts in the 80s, the federal government has played a relatively limited role in actual drug law enforcement, Kreit said. Except for overall policy decisions and the prosecution of a relatively limited number of federal drug offenses, Kreit observed that the federal government has not actually fought on the frontlines of the “war on drugs.” Instead, much of the fighting has been done at the local law enforcement level within individual states, Kreit added.

However, as Kreit observed, federal grant programs that provide much-needed funding to local law enforcement agencies distort the purpose of a drug policy.  In their current form, the grants actually incentivize law enforcement mechanisms that increase local drug arrests at any cost rather than yield any actual benefit to local communities.  Kreit suggested that, if the federal government truly wanted to end the drug war and promote an effort that would increase the well-being of individuals within the states, it would free the states to develop independent and innovative solutions to addressing drug problems rather than incentivizing law enforcement procedures that produce no tangible results.

Ultimately, Kreit claimed, the federal government has little interest in the legalization debate. Rather, its focus should be on whether the means within individual states promote the ends, regardless of whether those means involve legalization of certain substances or simply reduced penalties for less serious drug crimes.