It is very difficult for elected officials to talk seriously about drug policy reform (It is easy for them to talk about it non-seriously, but that’s a separate matter). The issues require nuanced dialogue, but the debate is dominated by polarized shouting matches. Reform minded politicians are typically reduced to un-sound-bite-worthy statements such as “I’d like to reduce the number of people in prisons but I am against the legalization of drugs so don’t accuse me of that” or “I think we need to be tougher on violent drug markets but I mean violent dealers not drug using teenagers so please don’t accuse me of being a heartless drug warrior”. It’s a lot of work and political risk to fight for a cause that most voters aren’t too thrilled to hear about in the first place.
I recently had the honor of being asked to join an advisory council to the New Jersey Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The main reason I agreed is that Chris Christie is one of the few governors in the U.S. who is elevating drug policy reform discussion in a way that both does justice to the complexity of the issues and acknowledges the need for change. Here are two 60 second snippets; the reaction to the second is particularly noteworthy.