Higher Ground

Time to rethink drug laws?

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed as the nation's latest drug czar on Thursday. Will he be the last? Though the "war on drugs" began with Richard Nixon in 1969, the position became semi-formal during the Reagan "Just Say No" years.  

However, there are more than a few signs suggesting that the country may be prepared to look at non-traditional substance use -- and abuse -- in a very different light. 

Item:  New York state eliminates the final vestiges of what were known as the Rockefeller drug laws. Passed during a large uptick in heroin addiction in the early '70s, the laws introduced some of the first mandatory-minimums sentencing regulations in the country. While the "Rocky" laws have actually been tinkered with a few times in the intervening decades -- and were nowhere near as strict as they once had been -- activists continued to work to get them overturned.  They succeeded this year; the new legislation direct more first-time offenders into drug courts and rehabilitation centers rather than prison..

Item:  California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for an open discussion on whether marijuana should be fully legalized (something which the governor himself opposes). If California does actually legalize the wacky weed, it will spark (ahem!) a movement across the country.

Item:  In a slightly related action, a medical marijuana bill is moving through the New York state senate -- just weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that  the Justice Department will pull back on raiding state-approved medical marijuana clubs

Item: President Obama is both mocked and applauded for his answer to an online "town hall" question on whether legalizing marijuana would be good for the economy.  His answer was "no."

Despite that, the very fact that Obama agreed to answer the question --  and the governor of the country's most populous state is actively asking for a discussion to be held on the topic -- suggests the nation is reaching a possible tipping point. The "war" metaphor on drug policy has gone on for 30 years with hardly satisfying results. Perhaps the new drug czar may decide that now's the time for blunt talk instead.

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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