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Overdose death rates have grown exponentially and reached historic highs in the 51 years since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than 100,000 people died from overdose deaths during the 12 months ending in April 2021, with roughly 77,000 involving opioids, 83 percent of which contained illicit fentanyl. One in five of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans are there for drug‐related crimes, and they are disproportionately minorities. The war on drugs is an abject failure and must end.
Americans can learn from other countries and from our own history with alcohol prohibition. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and redirected resources to harm reduction and rehabilitation of substance use disorder. The Portuguese reforms did not increase teen drug use and succeeded in reducing overdose deaths and lowering the spread of HIV and hepatitis. Following Portugal’s lead, Czechia and Uruguay treat personal possession and use of illicit drugs as a health issue, not a crime issue. In November 2020, Oregon voters approved a proposition decriminalizing drug possession and use within the state’s borders. However, some scholars believe decriminalization does not go far enough and that full legalization and regulation are the answers, much as how alcohol prohibition was ended.
To discuss these two fresh approaches to drug policy in the United States, we are fortunate to have with us three experts with unique knowledge in the area. Representative Earl F. Blumenauer (D‑OR) has expertise in marijuana and other drug policy reforms and is cosponsor of the Drug Policy Reform Act, introduced in July 2021, that would decriminalize drugs at the federal level. Dr. Carl L. Hart is a psychologist, neuroscientist, and psychopharmacologist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. He is author of Drug Use for Grown‐ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, published in 2021. Trevor Burrus is a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies and author of numerous works on drug prohibition and drug policy. Join us for a lively discussion on ways to think anew and act anew regarding present drug policy.
- “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies” by Glenn Greenwald
- “Let’s quit abusing drug users” by TEDMED
- “Drug Use for Grown Ups (with Carl Hart)” Libertarianism.org podcast
- “The War on Drugs” by Trevor Burrus
- “Drug Policy Reform Act of 2021″- H.R. 4020 (117th Congress) introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman
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