Deny­ing suc­cess of anti-drug pol­icy

The Demo­cratic Party’s le­gal­iza­tion vot­ing base is driv­ing the rhetoric against Ses­sions’ di­rec­tive

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Robert Weiner and Brad Star

Known as a “mur­der cap­i­tal” just a few decades ago, Wash­ing­ton D.C. is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an en­cour­ag­ing de­crease in vi­o­lent crime. In 2017 there were 116 homi­cides in the dis­trict, a rate of 16.72 mur­ders per 100,000 peo­ple, which con­tin­ues a sharp de­cline 80.6 mur­ders per 100,000 in 1991. This dras­tic de­cline can be at­trib­uted to the fad­ing of the crack epi­demic and the U.S.’ im­ple­men­ta­tion of a stronger drug strat­egy. While there has been a surge in opi­ate-re­lated deaths over the past decade, over­all drug use in the U.S. has nearly halved since the late 1970s. Crack is down by a whop­ping 70 per­cent. Yet Democrats have been deaf­en­ingly silent on the topic of anti-drug suc­cess and its role in the U.S.’ de­creas­ing crime rate. The party’s le­gal­iza­tion vot­ing base, not pol­icy, is driv­ing the rhetoric. They are en­gag­ing in a sub­tle strat­egy of si­lence.

On Jan. 4, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­scinded a trio of memos from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that had en­cour­aged non-in­ter­fer­ence with mar­i­juana-friendly state laws. This will al­low fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors to de­cide in­di­vid­u­ally how to deal with pos­ses­sion, dis­tri­bu­tion and cul­ti­va­tion of mar­i­juana in states where it is le­gal. While more than 20 states have le­gal­ized ei­ther “med­i­cal” or recre­ational pot at the state level, mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law, cre­at­ing a rift be­tween fed­eral and state law.

“The DEA said that a huge per­cent­age of the heroin ad­dic­tion starts with pre­scrip­tions,” Mr. Ses­sions said. “That may be an ex­ag­ger­ated num­ber; they had it as high as 80 per­cent. We think a lot of this is start­ing with mar­i­juana and other drugs.”

The re­ac­tion thus far has been out­rage from Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal lead­ers across the coun­try and in the dis­trict. Mr. Ses­sions’ de­ci­sion con­tra­dicts le­gal mar­i­juana in D.C.

“We do dis­agree on a mat­ter of law,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said when D.C. made the de­ci­sion to legalize mar­i­juana against Con­gress’ wishes. “We would en­cour­age the Con­gress to not be so con­cerned about what seven out of 10 vot­ers said should be the law in the Dis­trict of Columbia.”

Democrats are re­luc­tant to ac­knowl­edge an­tidrug suc­cesses be­cause le­gal­iza­tion is so over­whelm­ingly sup­ported by young peo­ple, a bas­tion of Demo­cratic votes. This has led many prom­i­nent Democrats, such as Ms. Bowser and Sen. Cory Booker, New Jer­sey Demo­crat, to blindly push for le­gal­iza­tion while ig­nor­ing progress made on the anti-drug front.

On Jan. 17 this year, New York City Demo­cratic Mayor Bill de Bla­sio told MSNBC’s Joe Scar­bor­ough that the mur­der rate in the U.S.’ largest city achieved a record low in 2017. De Bla­sio men­tioned sev­eral fac­tors he be­lieves crit­i­cal to the New York Po­lice De­part­ment’s effectiveness in re­duc­ing crime – es­pe­cially good “pre­ci­sion polic­ing” to knock out gangs — but ig­nored the drop in drug use.

The po­lice have done a spec­tac­u­lar job with new strate­gies and en­force­ment. How­ever, Mr. de Bla­sio left out an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor: the sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in drug use in the city and na­tion.

“The strik­ing re­duc­tion in homi­cide in New York City … is re­lated log­i­cally to the con­trac­tion of crack co­caine mar­kets,” said Ben­jamin Bowl­ing, Dean of the Kings Col­lege School of Law.

Ac­cord­ing to HHS, 14.1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans over the age of 12 were us­ing il­licit drugs at least monthly in 1979, and by 2010, that num­ber had de­creased to 8.9. New York is not alone as far as de­clin­ing vi­o­lent crime. Mur­ders per 100,000 peo­ple in the U.S. have de­creased from 27 in 1990 to 10 in 2017.

The “war on drugs” of­ten gets a bad rap, but, de­spite the cur­rent opi­oid cri­sis, il­licit drug use has de­clined about 40 per­cent since the 1970s, and crack is down as men­tioned by over twothirds. If any other ma­jor U.S. so­cial or health prob­lem dropped by two-thirds or even 40 per­cent — hunger, il­lit­er­acy, heart at­tacks, di­a­betes, or can­cer — would we call it a “fail­ure”?

Al­though drug ad­dic­tion and the surge of opi­oids re­main a ma­jor is­sue in the U.S. — 64,000 died in the U.S. last year from drug abuse in­clud­ing 40,000 from opi­oids ac­cord­ing to NIDA Di­rec­tor Nora Volkow — sig­nif­i­cant strides in the right di­rec­tion have been made. The com­pre­hen­sive Na­tional Drug Strat­egy es­poused by the White House Drug Pol­icy Of­fice of ed­u­ca­tion, treat­ment, pre­ven­tion, law en­force­ment, for­eign pol­icy, com­mu­nity anti-drug coali­tions, and drug courts (now 3,100) to re­place im­pris­on­ment of non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers, is work­ing.

Ex­cep­tions to the si­lence from Democrats have been ap­pointed Drug czars in­clud­ing Lee Brown and Barry McCaf­frey, who knew bet­ter when they cre­ated their com­pre­hen­sive Na­tional Strate­gies. “Drug war fail­ure” is a fun party talk­ing point. Oth­er­wise, it’s time for Democrats to ac­knowl­edge the ben­e­fits that ac­com­pany the coun­try’s sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in drug use.

“The strik­ing re­duc­tion in homi­cide in New York City … is re­lated log­i­cally to the con­trac­tion of crack co­caine mar­kets.”

Robert Weiner was the Clin­ton and Bush White House Na­tional Drug Pol­icy Of­fice spokesman, and spokesman for the House Nar­cotics Com­mit­tee. Brad Star is pol­icy an­a­lyst for Robert Weiner As­so­ciates and So­lu­tions for Change.


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