New Reports Tackle Drug Policy for 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s Declaration of ‘War on Drugs’

This week’s 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s 1971 declaration of the “war on drugs” finds two new contrasting reports addressing the nation’s drug policy.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has issued a new report questioning the cost, ethics, and effectiveness of arresting and incarcerating Americans for possession of drugs. The group favors regulating sales of all illicit drugs, including marijuana, heroin and cocaine, the Seattle Times reports. According to LEAP, legalizing all drugs would lead to the end of violent drug cartels, avoid needless imprisonment and increase available money for drug prevention and treatment. The group says that since President Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” millions of Americans have been arrested and incarcerated on drug-related offenses, yet the prevalence of drug use has not changed much.

In contrast, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) latest report highlights the connection between drug use and crimes other than, or in addition to, drug possession or trafficking. It finds that more than half of adult males arrested for crimes that range from misdemeanors to felonies in 10 cities tested positive for at least one drug.

The ONCDP’s 2010 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Report found that positive drug test results for male arrestees ranged from 52 percent in Washington, DC, to 83 percent in Chicago. The report also found that nine of 10 cities in the report saw a significant drop in adult male arrestees who tested positive for cocaine since 2007.

The number of arrestees who tested positive for marijuana rose in New York City, Sacramento and Charlotte in 2010 compared with the prior year. Four cities—Charlotte, Indianapolis, Portland and Sacramento—saw a significant increase in the percentage of males arrested who tested positive for opiates during the same period.

“These findings illustrate why we must approach our nation’s drug problem as a public health and safety problem,” Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement. “Drug addiction is too often the root of crime in our communities. Supporting innovative initiatives that divert non-violent offenders into treatment, instead of jail, and expand treatment access for incarcerated individuals can help break the vicious cycle of drug use and crime, reduce recidivism and make our communities healthier and safer.”

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