President Donald Trump declared this week that he wants law enforcement throughout the nation to “get really, really tough, really mean with the Drug pushers and drug dealers” as his administration makes moves to intensify the nation’s failed War on Drugs.
“People form blue ribbon committees, they do everything they can. And, frankly, I have a different take on it. My take is, you have to get really, really tough — really mean — with the drug pushers and the drug dealers,” Trump said at a recent event in Ohio. “We can do all the blue ribbon committees we want. We have to get a lot tougher than we are. And we have to stop drugs from pouring across our border.”
Last year, Trump formed the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis headed by Chris Christie.
He also put in a call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte around the same time, congratulating the leader for a bloody crackdown on drug pushers in that country.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump said at the time. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
Reason’s Ronald Bailey noted why that’s a little disturbing for civil libertarians here in the U.S.:
Duterte is indeed doing an “unbelievable job,” according to Human Rights Watch. The group estimates that that Duterte’s drug war has killed more than 12,000 drug suspects so far.
As big a blustering blowhard as our president is, I trust that he is not actually contemplating Duterte-style extrajudicial killings when he says “we have to get a lot tougher than we are.” Nevertheless, it is clear that the president has learned nothing from the failures of the war on drugs. Over the past four decades, the government has spent more than trillion dollars, locked up millions of Americans, and undermined our civil liberties, especially our Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, to stop the drug trade. Despite all the resources wasted and lives lost, the prices of illicit drugs have generally declined.
The tough crime policies Trump wants combat the current U.S. drug epidemic may not involve Duterte-style bloodshed– but they will likely mean bad news for civil liberty and criminal justice reform efforts.
Tough on crime talk was, after all, what led to vastly overcrowded prisons today. As Nancy Reagan repeated that “Just Say No” line ad nausea, lawmakers of the day tripped over one another attempting to be the face of the toughest anti-drug bills.
The result wasn’t a decline in drug use. It just landed a whole bunch of people in prison for a really long time after they were caught in possession of very small amounts of drugs.
That knee-jerk overcriminalization came in response to the crack cocaine problem. Today, opiates are the boogeymen.
Instead of following the failed path that cost more than $1 trillion and priceless freedom for millions of people, Trump should take a step back and reconsider the issue. First of all, the opiate problem is largely a symptom of a bigger problem– the medical industry and big pharma. Many addicts today begin as patients. With that in mind, it’s also worth remembering that much of the pain doctors treat with opiates today can be effectively managed with medical marijuana, which Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions is working to make more difficult to acquire.
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