Here at Green Rush Daily, we’ve written a lot about the problems with the war on drugs and why this war must stop.
Under the regime of the war on drugs, perhaps no drug has been more wrongfully demonized than marijuana, which has been not only inaccurately framed as a dangerous drug, but which has also been used to lock countless numbers of people—and especially poor people and people of color—into the U.S.’s monstrous system of mass incarceration.
This past weekend on 60 Minutes, the Director of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, spoke out against the war on drugs.
“It has all been wrong,” he told interviewer Scott Pelley. “We can’t arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people.”
“Not only do I think it’s really inhumane, but it’s ineffective and it cost us billions upon billions of dollars to keep doing this.”
Throughout the show, Botticelli and others cited a number of statistics to highlight just how miserable a failure the war on drugs has been.
Key among them: “21 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol. And half of all federal inmates are in for drug crimes.”
For a country that currently incarcerates 2.2 million people, that’s a sh*t ton of people serving time for non-violent offenses.
Botticelli argued that a key step toward abandoning the war on drugs is to change the way we think about drug addiction.
“We’ve learned addiction is a brain disease. This is not a moral failing,” he said.
“This is not about bad people who are choosing to continue to use drugs because they lack willpower. You know, we don’t expect people with cancer just to stop having cancer.”
Botticelli said that “addicts should be patients, not prisoners.”
The shift from viewing drug use as a crime that needs be dealt with by heavy-handed, military-style policing to a public health issue is at the heart of Botticelli’s approach.
He explained that thinking about drug addiction in this way will naturally lead to more productive, healthier responses than locking people in prison.
While Botticelli’s approach to addiction seems to make good sense, the interview ended on a kind of confusing note.
After highlighting the problems with the war on drugs, Botticelli ultimately failed to call for an all-out end to this war by removing the legal prohibitions that make the war on drugs possible.
In particular, he failed to talk about the need to legalize marijuana, a move that would immediately get rid of the more than 600,000 marijuana-related arrests that occur in the U.S. every year.
Botticelli said he’s “not a fan” of cannabis legalization.
“I’m not a fan. What we’ve seen quite honestly is a dramatic decrease in the perception of risk among youth around occasional marijuana use.”
“And they are getting the message that because it’s legal, that it is, there’s no harm associated with it.”
“So, we know that about one in nine people who use marijuana become addicted to marijuana. It’s been associated with poor academic performance, in exacerbating mental health conditions linked to lower IQ.”
At the end of the day, it seems very unclear how Botticelli plans to mesh what he said about the need to end the war on drugs with what he said about not wanting to legalize marijuana.
It seems pretty difficult—if not entirely impossible—to end the war on drugs while also keeping marijuana illegal.