Trump administration to step up ‘war on drugs’

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The US administration under President Donald Trump has signalled that it intends to intensify the ‘war on drugs’, with a return to 1980s-style prevention campaigns and the use of marijuana possession as a means to deport immigrants who don’t have proper documentation.

The direction is in contrast to that of the Obama administration, which steered prosecutors away from pursuing low-level drugs offenders, while one of President Obama’s final acts in office was to commute the sentences of 330 prisoners. The ‘vast majority’ of these were serving ‘unduly long sentences for drug crimes’, the White House said (DDN, February, page 4).

‘Let me be clear about marijuana,’ said homeland security secretary, John Kelly. ‘It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs.’ The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department (ICE) would ‘continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation/removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens,’ he stated.

While marijuana remains illegal under US federal law, eight states have now legalised the drug for adult use – including five which did so at the time of last year’s presidential elections (DDN, December 2016, page 4) – and almost 30 states have medical marijuana laws. ‘It’s outrageous to think that anyone following medical advice under state law would be subject to deportation,’ said policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Washington-based office of national affairs, Jerónimo Saldaña. ‘The Trump administration has signalled its desire to use the drug war as a tool to persecute immigrants.’

The announcement follows a speech last month by the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in which he praised the drug prevention campaigns of the 1980s and ’90s and stressed the need to prevent ‘people from ever taking drugs in the first place’. Treatment often came ‘too late to save people from addiction or death’, he said.

‘Too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable,’ he stated. ‘I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalising marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.’

President Trump is also expected to appoint a hardline drug war advocate, Tom Marino, as the next head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy – the country’s ‘drug czar’. Marino strongly supports a ‘punitive, 1980s approach to drugs’, says the Drug Policy Alliance, which called him a ‘disastrous’ choice. ‘Our nation needs a drug czar that wants to treat drug use as a health issue, not someone who wants to double down on mass incarceration,’ said its director of national affairs, Bill Piper. ‘The American people are moving in one direction and the Trump administration is moving in another. There are few hardcore supporters of the failed war on drugs left, but those that are left seem to all be getting jobs in the administration.’

Jeff Sessions’ speech is at www.justice.gov