By Mike Riggs,
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske made national news last month when he told an audience at the Betty Ford Center, “The president believes substance addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.” This followed Kerlikowske’s announcement, in May, that the Obama administration had divined a “third way” to approach drug policy. Between heavy law enforcement and outright legalization, said Kerlikoswke, is a completely novel approach focusing on prevention and drug addiction recovery.
In theory, as in press conferences, Obama’s new policy sounds reasonable and reflective of reality. Our prisons are overflowing with drug offenders–users and dealers, as well as people who entered the system for a minor offense, and stayed in the system because their employment prospects were diminished by a drug conviction. Additionally, polls show that Americans are ready to decriminalize marijuana, if not legalize it completely.
Yet in a recent interview with The Fix, an addiction and recovery website, Kerlikowske admitted what drug policy reformers have been saying since 2009: Obama’s new drug policy isn’t novel or all that different from those of his predecessors, it just sounds different.
“I don’t think you can lead people to de-stigmatization [of drug use] unless you first convince them of the disease model,” Kerlikowske said in the interview. But in the very same breath, he added, …