How Biden can fix America’s botched ‘War on Drugs’

By Andrew Schetter

IT WAS 50 years ago this June that President Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” in America. President Nixon’s strategy was to give more authority to federal drug control agencies and penalize drug offenders with incarceration.

Many historians believe the declaration of war on drugs by President Nixon was a political strategy aimed at targeting those who were anti-war or people of colour in communities where drugs were more prevalent.

Billions of federal dollars were spent on law enforcement – and yet, the number of drug overdoses in the country failed to reduce in any significant way. The Nixon administration may not have had the purest of intentions with the “war on drugs”, but every President since has rolled out a plan to combat drug addiction in America, because the previous one has had little impact.

With Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, he is provided the opportunity to approach the “war on drugs” in a new way. As the Biden administration takes office, the FBI estimates nearly 1.5 million arrests for drug possession a year.

Just as it was 50 years ago, the “war on drugs” disproportionately impacts the African American community.

For instance, Caucasians and African Americans utilize marijuana at very similar rates yet the African American community is nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession. Fighting back against systemic racism was one of the pillars of the Biden campaign and one of the biggest challenges will come in establishing a level playing field for all people in the eyes of the law.

One of the biggest fundamental shifts the Biden administration can make is to dedicate less resources to the persecution of drug users and more resources towards stopping drug use before it starts and rehabilitating those who have fallen victim to drug addiction. Consider that despite billions upon billions of dollars spent, the CDC estimated that almost 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2018. 

Americans have shown through the last election that they are ready for a new approach.

Most measures to decriminalize drug use were passed, and Oregon took the most drastic approach as they decriminalized the possession of drugs likes heroin and cocaine. This was not done to promote these drugs, but rather fund public treatment for drug addiction as well as education in order to prevent drug use. Marijuana will be taxed in Oregon and that revenue will go towards helping addicts in need.

The Biden administration comes into office understanding that drug reform is more than a liberal issue, but rather a measure with bipartisan support.

For example, South Dakota, which was easily won by President Trump, voted to legalize marijuana use and tax the revenue – which can be used to support those looking to recover from their drug addiction. In addition to legalizing marijuana possession, DC has taken steps to clear the records of people who were formally convicted on drug possession charges for marijuana.

While these steps help address some of the issues related to the “war on drugs,” the true test comes in how the administration looks to help those addicted to drugs like cocaine, heroin, pain medications and more.

The fundamental difference of the Biden administration’s approach should be to look at drugs as a health issue as opposed to a criminal issue. More resources must be dedicated to the medical community who can provide access to the medical and psychological treatments that have proven to help people overcome their addictions.

Unfortunately, addiction is not something that is overcome in the same way for everyone. Below are a few of the methodologies that the Biden Administration should look to support:

  • Mindfulness Therapy – A lot of addicts will struggle with anxiety and depression. Drugs can offer an outlet that helps hide those feelings temporarily. Mindfulness therapy teaches users how to stay in the moment and calm their thoughts. Finding a balance through focusing on the breath can help alleviate everything from daily stresses to the urge to use.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Some people benefit the most from a thorough analysis of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. An “aha” moment can occur when people unravel what led to their drug use in the first place.
  • Family Therapy – Addiction is a disease that not only impacts the person suffering from the addiction but all of their loved ones. One of the biggest threats against recovery is apathy. When damage has been done, it can be easy for an addict to fall into an attitude that relationships with those they love the most are irreparable. Family therapy allows for all members to be present and for addicts to see that their support group is committed to their recovery.

The Federal Government can take steps to help people at every part of the addiction process. It starts with educating America’s youth on the dangers of drugs like heroin and cocaine and goes all the way to supporting those in recovery who have suffered a relapse.

Every human life is worth fighting for and Americans can benefit greatly from a shift in perception. Instead of looking at those who fall victim to drug addiction as criminals and instead perceiving them as those who need help fighting a terrible disease, the United States can finally be in a place where they can win some battles in the “war on drugs.”

Andrew Schetter is a professional writer with more than ten years of experience in the digital marketing space. With a political science degree from Monmouth University, Schetter has remained interested in the American political space and how the decisions of the few impact the many.

Opinion articles featured on Redaction Politics reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore @Flickr

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