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Aug 20, 2009 11:23 pm

American Opposition to Harm Reduction

So far, sending mixed messages would be a very apt description of the Obama Administration’s approach to drug policy. In the week after taking office there were federal raids on medical marijuana clinics but subsequently the Attorney General announced that there would be a change in that aspect of the federal/state relationship. Next the administration named the most forward thinking and humane person to hold the job of Drug Czar in the history of that office; however, the administration made the appointment a non-cabinet position and stated that veteran dedicated drug warrior Vice-President Joe Biden would have a significant role in forming policy. Also, that while some military leaders are expressing a desire to intervene in support of Mexican drug prohibition the administration itself seems to be very reluctant.

In the latest signal though, the Obama Administration has opposed the idea of harm reduction at the UN. During a meeting in Austria to determine the direction of UN drug policy for the next decade, the concept of mitigating the effects of drug use was not included in the final statement and 26 countries, including some of our closest allies, tried to change this despite strong opposition from the U.S. delegation. Eyewitness SSDP Executive Director Kris Krane reports that, “over 100 countries chose not to speak in support or opposition to harm reduction, yet the United States willingly chose to align itself with countries that are responsible for some the worst human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the War on Drugs, rather than staying silent or aligning with America’s traditional allies. The Obama administration has promised to rebuild America’s traditional alliances, yet they willfully set this process back in order to continue the disastrous global war on drugs and drug users. Clearly, this behavior will not change unless President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton hear a loud message from citizens that global drug policy must be based in science, reason, evidence, and human rights, rather than worn-out ideology and Drug War orthodoxy.”

Indeed, Obama does need to make a decision, will his drug policy be based on the same old inhumane, immoral, violent, costly, and failed concepts or will he instigate meaningful change that will benefit both his place in history and the lives of the American people. Before he makes such a choice he would do well to heed Anthony Gregory’s latest comprehensive and well argued talk on the subject. To make clear the stakes involved Gregory quotes Ludwig von Mises as asserting that, “opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.”

Some of Barak Obama’s opponents on the political far right are arguing that the new president’s real agenda is the imposition of totalitarianism. We would do well to monitor his drug policy choices as a gauge to the accuracy of his adversary’s claims.

Cross posted on The Trebach Report

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