The Obama administration is saying all the right things about the jumble of ineffective and vindictive laws, policies and practices that have made up this nation's so-called war on drugs. Shortly after he was confirmed, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he would halt Drug Enforcement Administration raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. Then the Justice Department urged Congress to eliminate the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity in convictions for dealing crack and powder cocaine, which imposed long prison terms on predominantly black defendants.
The most recent reassurance comes from the new drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, Kerlikowske said it's time to retire the phrase "war on drugs." Good. It's as misguided as the policies it frames. "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' ... people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country." These sensible pronouncements inspire hope that the administration is moving toward a more rational approach to drugs. There is much to do.