After decades of failed drug policy, is the US ready to change course? A statement released by the White House Tuesday was a promising signal that yes, perhaps it can. Coming on the back of the Summit of the Americas, where drug policy was at the forefront, the statement calls for a more sensible domestic approach to drug use and addiction: less prison time, more treatment.
"Outdated policies like the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders are relics of the past that ignore the need for a balanced public health and safety approach to our drug problem," US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said in the statement.
The road to legalisation
It is the Central American countries that have suffered most in the "war on drugs" (a policy and a phrase that came into use under US president Richard Nixon, 40 years ago). Earlier this year they called for a radical rethink of the region's tactics for fighting trafficking, cartel crime and soaring prison populations. The president of Guatemala even floated the idea of drug legalisation.
President Obama has acknowledged that this new talk on drugs is "legitimate". And the drug czar's new approach seems to mirror that message. According to the White House statement:
"It outlines ways to break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and arrest by diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment, bolstering support for re-entry programs that help offenders rejoin their communities and advancing support for innovative enforcement programs proven to improve public health while protecting public safety."
The US and its regional allies have a lot invested in the tried and failed drug war methods of the past. Now it's time to look for new solutions. Hopefully Tuesday's statement was a genuine move in that direction.
Further reading: Check out the White House's full statement.