Guest Blogger: Kevin Sabet Says “Wake Up and Grow Up”

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Blog Editor’s Note: Today, the Obama administration released its 2012 National Drug Control Strategy. We asked Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., former Senior Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), to comment on this new plan.Kevin Sabet

Though it likely won’t garner much attention from the mainstream media, the Obama Administration released its third National Drug Control Strategy today. I had the privilege to co-author the President’s inaugural Strategy in 2010, which emphasized a balance between public health and safety approaches to drug policy. I was also lucky enough to have a second go at it, assisting in its update in 2011, which laid out progress and challenges to date and emphasized the challenges related to special populations acutely affected by drug use – women and girls, young people, the military community, those in the criminal justice system, those in college and universities, and Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

The 2012 release is likely to be attacked by those who are waiting for the day the President will make a U-turn and support legalization—but attackers will unfortunately miss the nuance and striking clarity which characterizes this particular document and its connection with the first Strategy.  Indeed, the opening words set a tone:

“The Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, published in 2010, charted a new direction in our efforts to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences in the United States. The Strategy pursued a mainstream approach to the drug problem—an approach that rejects the false choice between an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” on the one hand and the notion of drug legalization on the other. Science shows that drug addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual—but a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated.”

This year’s Strategy is essentially pleading with the Nation to wake up and grow up. It tells us that it’s no longer acceptable to react with indifference to the fact that more than 10 people every day of the year die from prescription drug abuse. In plain language it wisely asks us to put aside polemical and nonsensical defenses of either the status quo or drug legalization in favor of an intelligent, honest analysis of the hard work that goes into demand and supply reduction efforts.

It also articulates a wise, but delicate balance between recognizing successes (for example, the striking manner by which the supply and demand of cocaine in the United States has fallen in the past 8 years) and major challenges (like the dire situation in Mexico, Guatemala, and other nations in the region).  And it reminds us not to forget to complete the work many of us started in areas like recovery and the importance of creating environments (legal and social) conducive to abstinence, whether that be for a kid who has never used or for an adult on the journey to a positive life change.

There is nothing sexy or glitzy about this piece of policy work. It wasn’t released with pomp and circumstance, and it doesn’t have anything in it that you can put on a bumper sticker.  It’s a pure, simple, and factual call to action for a nation in trouble. And that is its greatest strength.

Kevin Sabet, Ph.D.

Sabet is currently a drug policy consultant and a regular contributor to and HuffingtonPost. When he was at ONDCP, Sabet was a principal drafter of the President’s first Strategy in 2010. Follow him on twitter @kevinsabet.



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  • Tom Foolery

    You’re lucky your ridiculous drug policy strategy isn’t getting attention from the mainstream media — if it were, maybe more people would realize how committed to absolutely failed policies this government is. You and all the other prohibitionists should be ashamed of your continued commitment to keeping millions of Americans in prison for nonviolent offenses. Your policies are making this country worse every day.

  • This isn’t “hope” or “change.” This is policy written by lobbies (prisons, drug testers, and treatment organizations). Wake up, besides the people who actually deal the drugs, the “war” has been lost. So we cater to the lobby groups and make sure a mom in Oklahoma gets 12 years for selling $30 in pot? This policy is pathetic.

  • eedelman

    Actually, Phoenix House supports decriminalization of drugs and doesn’t support incarceration of nonviolent offenders–and neither does the 2012 strategy. In fact, Gil Kerlikowske, director of the ONDCP, issued the following statement: “Outdated policies like the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders are relics of the past that ignore the need for a balanced public health and safety approach to our drug problem.”

  • Perchance L.

    It’s amazing how effective on the net the legalizers are. Kevin, your article is well-reasoned and timely. Thank you for what you do.

  • hdhjp

    I just got this from the Reason Online article which tries to artificially pick a fight with the Obama approach. The President is in a “damned if we do and damned if we don’t” situation. If he respects the law and tries to infuse public health, he is vilified by the left. If he experiments with new policies like HOPE or DMI, he is a raging liberal. The comments above show this ignorance, since Sabet is simply trying to be pragmatic and useful to the debate.

  • satanfornoreason

    You’re wrong eedelman. Phoenix House does not support decriminalization of drugs. Decriminalization would mean that a person would not have to face any consequences ordered by the government for possession of a drug. As a for-profit business, Phoenix House has an interest in the government forcing people to seek treatment for drugs. Just because you don’t have to go to jail doesn’t mean something is decriminalized. Actions and possessing things like drugs are not decriminalized if a consequence of those actions or possessions is the government forcing you to pay a fine, go to jail, or enroll in mandatory treatment.

  • satanfornoreason

    To correct my own error in the above post. I meant to say as a not-for-profit business. The motivations for the leaders of the business are the same whether for profit or not for profit (profits go back into the business instead of to shareholders).

  • eedelman

    Thanks for the correction, satanfornoreason. Phoenix House is indeed a not-for-profit organization, not a business, and has a strong history of serving indigent clients who would not otherwise be able to afford treatment. Also, decriminalization is defined as “the removal of criminal penalties”–meaning jail, prison, or legal fines. Treatment for substance abuse, on the other hand, is a medical issue, and Phoenix House and the Drug Strategy both wholeheartedly support it as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.

  • satanfornoreason

    The problem is with the term “drugs”. If I consume marijuana or meth or cocaine one weekend, I need as much treatment for that as a person who has a glass of wine every day when they come home from work: none. I’m an adult choosing to do something that is no one else’s business. Except the pot or meth aren’t nearly as harmful as the wine. Fact. I will concede that mandatory treatment is not a criminal punishment when there are no penalties for not complying with a court compelled treatment. Making an “offender” do something that takes their time and interrupts their life is a penalty if the “offense” is breaking some law.