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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Obama calls for decriminalization of drug use

The most important thing we can do is to reduce demand for drugs. And the only way that we reduce demand is if we’re providing treatment and thinking about this as a public health problem and not just a criminal problem.

— Barack Obama, President of the United States

The final four days of March marked the 5th annual National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. U.S. President Barack Obama was one of many presenters covering topics of narcotic abuse, recovery and prohibition. During his panel, he argued that drug abuse was not a criminal issue and should not be treated as such.

“The most important thing we can do is to reduce demand for drugs,” said Obama. “And the only way that we reduce demand is if we’re providing treatment and thinking about this as a public health problem and not just a criminal problem.”

Within the past year, the president has taken action to ensure appropriate use of prescription medicine and increase funding for drug abuse treatment. In last month’s panel, he discussed pending changes to Medicare and Medicaid policies to treat mental health issues with the same sense of urgency as physical issues.

In Greensboro, there are several program options for drug or alcohol addicts seeking recovery.

Alcohol & Drug Services is a non-profit organization with several locations throughout North Carolina. Their outpatient treatment programs are partially covered through Medicaid, state funding and some insurance policies. However, full or even partial funding is no guarantee, which often leaves struggling addicts at a loss.

Many drug users end up in 12-step programs and halfway houses as an alternative to more expensive forms of treatment.

Twelve-step recovery appears successful for some, but results are unfounded and require an initiative that not all recovery-seeking addicts have. Halfway houses still require rent and sometimes further donations, plus there are spatial constraints that limit admission.

While financial restrictions do hinder treatment availability, social stigma may play an even larger role. Historically, drug abuse “was seen as a character flaw … affecting the poor and minorities,” according to Obama at the summit.

It is often people of marginalized socioeconomic, racial or ethnic backgrounds who face the most prejudice when it comes to addiction. Statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union show that while drug use in America is consistent between races, drug arrest rates are highest among people of color.

They reported, “on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.”

There are people who never have the opportunity to seek treatment because they end up incarcerated. It is situations like this that have encouraged activist organizations to fight for drug reform.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has three chapters in North Carolina. Their efforts include reducing marijuana-related stigma, encouraging responsible use and informing the public on differences between cannabis and other drugs.

Marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 drug, just like heroin and a host of other substances. However, NORML states, “marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.”

While some groups are in favor of drug-specific reform, others, such as the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, prefer more extensive legalization, regardless of whether a substance has potential for addiction either physically or mentally. Guilford now has its own chapter, led by junior Chris Honein.

“The belief shared by SSDP is that all drugs need to be on a baseline decriminalized,” said Honein. “Incarceration … turns petty offenders into criminals in our broken prison system.“

He believes in safe drug access, addiction treatment and honest education.

There is currently one Harm Reduction Coalition Center in Greensboro where injection drug users can access clean syringes. Programs like these help reduce rates of HIV/AIDS and provide addiction support.

Obama has been encouraging further education and awareness efforts.

“We have to make sure that our medical community, that our scientific community, that individuals — all of us are working together in order to address this problem,” he said.

Part of Obama’s plan is to treat underlying roots of abuse or addiction on an individual level. His shift from criminality to health advocacy is a step towards sensible drug policy.

“Certainly Obama has made headway,” said Honein, “It is, of course, so far short of what I would like to see happen.”

It is unclear whether legalization is on the horizon, but one thing is sure: the war on drugs will be taking a different course as policy makers revise how they address drug offenses in the future.

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  • M

    Malcolm KyleApr 15, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Here are some simple facts:

    Our policy regarding drugs is in the hands of frauds, liars and two bit crooks. Until they are removed from office or/and in handcuffs, poverty will increase, injustice will prevail and perversity will continue to rule.

    A rather large majority of people will always feel the need to use drugs such as heroin, opium, nicotine, amphetamines, alcohol, or caffeine.

    Just as it was impossible to prevent alcohol from being produced and used in the U.S. in the 1920s, so too, it is equally impossible to prevent any of the aforementioned drugs from being produced and widely used by those who desire to do so.

    Due to Prohibition (historically proven to be an utter failure at every level), the availability of most of these mood-altering drugs has become so universal and unfettered that in any city of the civilized world, any one of us would be able to procure practically any drug we wish within an hour.

    The massive majority of people who use drugs do so recreationally – getting high at the weekend then up for work on a Monday morning.

    A very small minority of people will always experience drug use as problematic.

    Throughout history, the prohibition of any mind-altering substance has always exploded usage rates, overcrowded jails, fueled organized crime, created rampant corruption of law-enforcement – even whole governments, while inducing an incalculable amount of suffering and death.

    The involvement of the CIA in running Heroin from Vietnam, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan and Cocaine from Central America has been well documented by the 1989 Kerry Committee report, academic researchers Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott, and the late journalist Gary Webb.

    It’s not even possible to keep drugs out of prisons, but prohibitionists wish to waste hundreds of billions of our money in an utterly futile attempt to keep them off our streets.

    Prohibition kills more people and ruins more lives than the prohibited drugs have ever done.

    The United States jails a larger percentage of it’s own citizens than any other country in the world, including those run by the worst totalitarian regimes, yet it has far higher use/addiction rates than most other countries.

    As with torture, prohibition is a grievous crime against humanity. If you support it, or even simply tolerate it by looking the other way while others commit it, you are an accessory to a very serious moral transgression against humanity.

    The United States re-legalized certain drug use in 1933. That drug was alcohol and the 21st amendment re-legalized its production, distribution and sale. Both alcohol consumption and violent crime dropped immediately as a result. And very soon after, the American economy climbed out of that same prohibition engendered abyss into which it had foolishly fallen.