War on Drugs


It is painfully and personally clear to many in the 11th District that the war on drugs is a hopeless failure. We are losing our co-workers, friends, and family members while our communities are under assault from drug gangs and from the petty theft that funds addicts. No illicit trafficking gang is a suitable substitute for the professional care addicts need.

In the United States, several states are experimenting with entirely different approaches to marijuana and some are looking at alternatives to heroin. We have our own history with alcohol prohibition to consult, and several nations also are trying new approaches. I encourage everyone to read Johann Hari’s excellent 2015 book, Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the war on drugs, for more information on how we got here and where others are going.

I am not sure I have an answer for our drug problems, but I am sure that the federal government’s approach has not been and cannot be the solution. I am concerned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to think the answer is just more vigorous law enforcement, a strategy that nearly everyone has concluded is not helpful and not working.

Therefore, I will propose that we “sunset” all federal prohibitions on all intoxicants and turn to the states.

The removal of penalties at the federal level would come several years after passage of a bill, allowing federal agencies to form and provide guidance to the states and allow the states time to form their own strategies and laws concerning everything from marijuana to heroin. At the federal level, we would retain controls on substances entering the country illegally and on drug gang activity although I would expect both to diminish over time.

Having fifty states and seven territories testing alternatives to the war on drugs greatly accelerates the day we find compassionate, fair ways to help people who find themselves in the grip of addictions. Hari notes in his book that the number one cause of adult dependency on alcohol or heroin or gambling or anything similar is childhood trauma. We must have sympathy for these victims—they are friends and family members of many of us—and provide them safe, effective treatment.