From an article by Mike Lillis at The Washington Independent:
Quietly, free of headlines and fanfare, the Obama White House is toning down the bellicose “war-on-drugs” position that’s defined the country’s narcotics policy for the last 25 years.This news is very promising for some, but is far from the absolute goal of legalization. It would most likely be safe to assume that once sensitive legislative measures, such as health care or immigration reform, are done with, the Administration might take a more open approach to politically risque subjects.
Appearing in Vienna last week for the 53rd annual United Nations meeting on global drug policy, administration officials shifted away from the decades-old approach of attacking drug use as a crime to be penalized. Instead they moved toward a strategy of tackling addiction as an illness to be treated, a number of health and human rights advocates who attended the event told TWI.
Drug reformers for years have promoted so-called “harm reduction” measures as a more effective and humane way to treat drug addiction and the diseases that often accompany it — an approach that runs counter to the punitive attitude epitomized by the Reagan administration’s “war on drugs.” And while the Obama White House — behind Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug czar, and his deputy, Thomas McLellan — remains officially opposed to the hot-button harm reduction language, officials have also conceded that the current strategy isn’t working, advocates say. That sharp break from past administrations has left reformers hopeful that the Obama White House will mark a new era in the nation’s fight against drug abuse — one that prioritizes treatment and prevention above rap sheets and prison time.
“There was virtually no reference to a criminal justice approach,” Allan Clear, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group, said of the U.S. delegation in Vienna. “I’m just so used to being appalled by their behavior … It was very encouraging.”
Deborah Peterson Small, executive director of Break the Chains, another group advocating for drug-policy reforms, agreed, noting a brand new willingness among White House officials to embrace certain elements of the harm reduction strategy. When she spoke about treatment reforms to U.S. drug officials in Vienna in 2008, Small said, the entire delegation walked out on her. “This year it was completely different,” she said. “We finally had a sense that they were listening.”
The comments mark quite a departure from those that drug reformers were making a year ago at the same U.N. event, where the Obama administration killed international efforts to include harm reduction language as part of a U.N. document that will guide the next decade’s global drug policy. Harm reduction refers to things like drug-substitute treatments and clean-needle exchanges — programs being tried (with promising results) in a number of countries to battle the spread of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other drug-related illnesses. The White House has argued that the broad harm reduction language is “ambiguous” and could include controversial programs the administration doesn’t support, including drug legalization, drug consumption rooms and heroin prescription initiatives.