Last year, 109,680 people in the US died from drugs, and every year that number has been rising. Add up all the motor vehicle fatalities and all the gun fatalities – and that is still less than the number of overdose deaths last year.
The War on Drugs has completely failed to alleviate the problem it supposedly set out to solve. It has only created more problems, fueling mass incarceration and violence at home and abroad. We have spent $1 trillion and continue to spend $100 billion annually on the failed drug war, and over half of our incarcerated population is in prison because of drug-related charges. Our approach is not defeating the drug cartels in Latin America, which feed the horrifying violence that fuels the crisis at our Southern Border.
While many say the War on Drugs has been a failure, it is more accurate to say that it has worked as intended. An architect of the Drug War, Nixon’s White House Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman explained its true purpose:
“The Nixon White House … had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
If we are actually interested in solving drug problems, we must recognize that drug addiction is a symptom of the wider malaise in our society, and punishing people for it does nothing to address its root causes. Furthermore, every adult deserves the right to control what they put in their own body, as long as they are not harming anyone else. For a fraction of the $100 billion per year that we currently spend on the failed drug war, we could build a national network of world-class treatment and recovery services available to all at no cost.
A Marianne Williamson Administration will end the prohibitionist War on Drugs while stopping the crisis of drug overdoses. My drug policy includes four core pillars: ending prohibition, harm reduction (including safer supply programs and supervised consumption sites), addiction treatment and recovery, and giving Americans better lives.
1. Ending prohibition
Addiction is a health issue, not a criminal one, and people suffering from it need help, not incarceration. Prohibitionist policies do not work, and every adult deserves the right to do what they want with their own body as long as they don’t harm others. That means no one should be locked in a cage for experimenting with drugs or becoming addicted to them.
On my first day in the White House, I would immediately decriminalize less harmful drugs such as cannabis and psilocybin by instructing the DEA to reschedule them, and I would immediately pardon and grant amnesty to those convicted of nonviolent drug possession. I would also fully legalize and regulate cannabis and psilocybin by nominating an attorney general, Drug Enforcement Administration administrator, and Health and Human Services secretary who will work towards this goal. Once I build up national infrastructure for harm reduction and addiction treatment (see pillars 2 and 3), I will work towards decriminalized possession of all drugs.
In the global arena, I would modify international treaties that sustain ineffective prohibitionist policies, and I would work with drug policy reform allies in other countries working towards similar goals.
Lastly, I would form a commission of experts to study possible paths toward legally regulating other drugs. If we don’t legalize, then we can’t regulate, we can’t stop fentanyl-laced drugs, and we can’t take on the cartels and violence that fuel the illegal drug trade. However, we cannot just legalize all drugs tomorrow without a detailed plan and drugs must be subject to regulation, so building a framework for legal regulation will be crucial.
2. Harm reduction: Safer supply and supervised consumption sites
The harm reduction approach recognizes that not everyone is going to abstain from all harmful drugs immediately and forever, so we must get people using drugs to do so in the least harmful way possible.
While we eventually want to help people reach full addiction recovery (see pillar 3), treatment takes time, and people cannot be treated if they are dead, so we need to take harm reduction measures immediately to help those at high risk of overdose now.
Safer supply programs piloted in parts of Canada and elsewhere provide those at high risk of overdose with their drugs, but these drugs would be regulated and tested by the government instead of coming from the dangerous black market, where they are often laced with fentanyl.
People should also be able to use drugs at supervised consumption sites, where they can use their safer supply of drugs and clean paraphernalia while being under medical supervision in a designated environment. This would not only save many lives – it would also solve the issue of public drug use on the street.
A harm reduction approach rather than a prohibitionist one should also apply to currently legal harmful drugs like nicotine. We should reject prohibitionist bans on non-combustible forms of nicotine and promote these as alternatives to smoking tobacco, as the evidence indicates they are far less harmful. Of course, we should also try to stop any form of nicotine from getting into the hands of minors. Regarding legal prescription drugs, we must ensure that patients get the medicine they need by reforming DEA policies that lead to medication shortages.
3. Addiction treatment and recovery
After we stop the immediate deaths through harm reduction, we need to make sure that people suffering from addiction can get the treatment needed to reach a full recovery. We must treat addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one, and we must treat healthcare as a human right.
For a fraction of the money we spend on the failed drug war, I would build a national network of world-class treatment and recovery services available to all for free. I would hire an addiction recovery czar to direct a department for this purpose.
My universal healthcare program will provide free addiction treatment and recovery programs to all. Addiction treatment must be based on the principle that anyone who wants help must get it immediately and at no cost or other barriers. If people have to wait months or longer to get treatment, they might be dead by the time treatment arrives.
We will provide everyone with robust, state-funded, free residential and outpatient treatment, which could include psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for addiction using psilocybin and ibogaine. Recovery programs will also include education, housing, and job support – including loans to start worker cooperatives – and this point connects with policy.
4. Giving Americans better lives
Drug addiction is merely a symptom of an underlying malaise. As president, I want to help create a society in which the rampant despair that is killing so many people does not exist. When every American has a right to housing, food, education, childcare, healthcare (including mental healthcare), a good union job, and all other necessities, then far fewer people will become addicted to harmful drugs. That is why my Economic Bill of Rights is a crucial pillar of solving the overdose epidemic and many of the major issues our country faces.