The One Shift That Could Change the War on Drugs

After I wrote about the failures of the War on Drugs for BC Law Magazine last semester I waited anxiously for the backlash. I spent ten years in the U.S. Coast Guard before law school, six of them chasing international drug cartels at sea, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most professional and dedicated military and law enforcement personnel in the world. I was terrified about how they’d respond when I called the drug war a “lost cause,” and it took less than a day for the responses to start flooding my inbox. The volume wasn’t surprising, but the content shocked me.

An overwhelming percentage of my former colleagues, many of whom are still risking their lives on counter-narcotics deployments all over the globe, wrote to say that they agreed. Even more encouragingly, many wrote from policy and strategy offices to talk about new initiatives and proposals they were working on to try to change the entire framework of how our country tackles this issue. After four decades of stalled policy, it seemed like our country was finally willing to reckon with the War on Drugs and find a better way forward.

I was even more encouraged by The Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy’s final event of the semester, a program called “Creative Solutions to the Opioid Crisis.” Here, law enforcement, public health, and treatment experts from all over New England gathered to discuss groundbreaking initiatives they were taking to finally treat drugs like a public health crisis instead of an international game of whack-a-mole that ends with mass death and mass incarceration at home. Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan bluntly told the audience, “We’ve lost the War on Drugs, (let’s) shift resources from the supply side to the demand side.”

U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin also advocated for changes, telling the crowd, “If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.” Now that officials at the federal, state, and local level are open to discarding bad policies and trying new initiatives maybe we’ll finally get something different.

Read more of my coverage of the event in BC Law Magazine.

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