Will September 16, 2015 Mark the Beginning of the End of the War on Drugs

At Salon yesterday, I pointed to the most interesting part of the GOP debate on Wednesday — the policy debate over how to deal with addiction. As I point out, one reason this debate is taking place is because New Hampshire is really struggling with heroin addiction right now. But the debate started about pot, not heroin. And even tough on crime candidates like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush struggled to spin their approach as kinder and gentler; Christie pitched his support for decriminalization as another expression of pro-life.

This was the moment, I argued, when the GOP found ways to pitch a more reasonable approach to drugs in GOP ideology (and Rand Paul deserves credit for pushing this).

Even while Christie and Bush, to differing degrees, cling to old-style War on Drug rhetoric, this campaign (and particularly the New Hampshire addiction crisis Bush mentioned) will force real debate about what combination of treatment, decriminalization, legalization, and education might provide some way out of the failed drug war. This discussion framed that dramatic policy shift in rhetoric — states rights and pro life — that Republicans can rally behind.

All this, of course, took place in the Reagan library, the shrine to the man who formally declared the now-failed War on Drugs in 1982. CNN even used his damn plane to ask candidates to project themselves into Reagan’s legacy. “Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, used the plane behind you to accomplish a great many things….How will the world look different once your Air Force One is parked in the hangar of your presidential library?” But one of the most constructive policy discussions in last night’s debate constituted a renunciation, finally, of Reagan’s legacy.

Mind you, the foreign policy and immigration stances of candidates undermines the value of this — few Republicans will give up the excuse of the War on Drugs to big foot in Latin America, no matter how counterproductive that is. And some candidates — such as Trump, who probably hasn’t exactly eschewed drugs all his life — weren’t clamoring to look soft on drugs.

All that said, amid all the talk of starting new wars in the shadow of Saint Ronnie’s plane, I was heartened by a moment that might lead toward ending one.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Yes, a good sign.
    .
    Reading here about the war on drugs, and mindful of the recent “not my job to secure the OMB databases” flap, I wonder if the DEA perhaps has any drug-related databases that are significant and should be protected. Lists of informants, maybe? Known users? And then there’s the IRS, not known for having the most up-to-date computer systems in Washington — nothing personal/critical there, of course. (Gee, I’d love to have a hold over some auditors, wouldn’t you?) Or perhaps the Social Security Administration (the pot of gold at the end of the identity theft rainbow)? Are any of those in the NCSC’s remit?

  2. Don Bacon says:

    snark alert
    There is some hardship here. In states that have eased up on marijuana, the canine cops can no longer use a dog trained for MJ so the (wo)man and the dog are separated, leading to tearful stories of the induced grief in some police state operatives. We are governed by dogs!

  3. What Constitution? says:

    Now you’ve done it. Publicly humiliating a few Republicans by recognizing they nearly approached sanity and rationality while also effectively (albeit probably unwittingly) distancing themselves from existing Republican dogma. Last time we’ll hear this from those guys, sheesh. Today we’ll have Hannity castigating them for “siding with Liberals” and that skinny blonde chick tossing in “fucking Liberals” to the mix, and that will be that for a “new policy pronouncement”.

    • What Constitution? says:

      PS — with sincere apologies to blonde women everywhere. It’s just that one person, she’s just so singularly reprehensible and I can’t help myself. Has nothing to do with her physique and I much prefer to be civil to everybody and not use sexist stereotypes. I meant to convey “all purpose disgust”, not just such a cheap and contrived… oh, I’ll just have to live with it and learn, just digging a deeper hole here. Sorry.

  4. M. says:

    Sharon Beder is right on this one: PR execs only let activist types have a “win” if they’ve already set up a way to profit. If you go through the 10Ks on EDGAR, you’ll see that CCA/Geo/Serco/etc. started pivoting toward mental health firms 10+ years ago.

    IOW, moving from prison to “drug treatment” is just transferring money from one side of the ledger to the other.

    • orionATL says:

      georgia. and don’t forget virginia. our highways of freedom.

      and never forget – it’s “live free or die” !

  5. orionATL says:

    oh, so new hampshire is struggling with a big addiction problem, eh ?

    and the republican leaders, the loud-mouthed heartlessness-and-soul of prosecutorial viciousness toward drug crimes, suddenly turn kindly – and thoughtful ?

    my, my. will wonders never cease?

    would this addiction in new hampshire be similar to the addiction of white boy voters in indiana?

    will we see another sudden change of heartlessness when the republican presidential gong show gets to indiana?

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