Weather Updates

Editorial: Ditch drug war, try treatment

Updated: August 3, 2011 10:34PM

Forty years ago on Friday, President Richard Nixon launched America’s war on drugs, calling illegal drug abuse “Public Enemy No. 1.”

Last week, an international commission issued an authoritative report declaring what we’ve pretty much known all along: The global war on drugs has been a complete failure.

Not only has consumption of opiates, cocaine and marijuana increased worldwide over the last decade, as the Global Commission on Drug Policy noted in its report, but gang violence associated with the illegal drug trade continues to plague Chicago’s neighborhoods.

We’re also filling our prisons with nonviolent drug offenders, wasting young lives and taxpayer money, but nothing changes.

It’s particularly shameful that blacks convicted of low-level drug possession crimes in Cook County are eight times more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites for the same crimes.

Calling our nation’s drug policy a failure is easy.

Figuring out a more sensible strategy going forward is the challenge.

We’re not convinced outright legalization of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin is the answer. There is some sense, though, to the global commission’s recommendation that countries experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime.”

More importantly, we need to change the way we think about drug abuse, just as we did decades ago with alcohol.

“For too long, we’ve treated drug use as a criminal justice issue rather than a public health issue, which it is,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Friday during a downtown rally.

Let’s not spend another 40 years pretending we can beat this problem any other way.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.