Health Oriented Drug Policy Under President Obama

The abstract of my new paper in the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis:

This paper reviews the first three years of drug policy in the Obama Administration, focusing in particular on whether policy has been and will continue to be “health-oriented”. Some advocates use the term “health-oriented” as a euphemism for legalization of the production, supply, advertising and use of currently illegal drugs. Such individuals would not consider the Obama drug policy “health-oriented” because it reflects the President’s longstanding opposition to drug legalization. Other observers use the term “health-oriented” to mean drug policies that enhance public health. From this perspective, the Obama policy has been unusually “health-oriented”. The administration has expanded health and social services for people with drug and alcohol problems to an extent not seen in 40 years or more. It has also eliminated harsh drug war rhetoric, reduced some criminal penalties for drug offenses, supported re-entry programs and alternatives to incarceration and overseen the first drop in the size of the incarcerated population in decades.

Whole article here (Paywalled unfortunately unless you are at university or hospital with access to De Gruyter journals).


  1. Maynard Handley says

    Re our earlier discussion of Aaron Swartz, might I ask why the article is only available behind a paywall? Is it impossible to publish in this field in a journal that does not have a horrific copyright stance? Is is not possible to do what much of the hard science community does which is to release a public “draft” on their web site (which generally is missing one reference or something minor), when the publisher insists on being a prick and no alternatives publishers available?

    This is not directed against you, directly, Keith, but against your community of practice, which seems happy to acquiesce in this behavior. As opposed to other academic communities which have rebelled against the publishers and have found that such rebellion can be made to work.

    • Keith Humphreys says

      Hi Maynard,

      The Journal was published by BE Press and was free to all when I submitted. It was since bought by a company and is now paywalled. However, virtually everything else I have written in my career is in the public domain.

      • Maynard Handley says

        THAT is amazingly evil. I’m surprised it’s even legal, in the sense that I would imagine (if you had the time and energy) you could argue that the contract you made with the publisher included the right to public access, and you were in no way party to any sort of modification of that contract. But I can see why you couldn’t be bothered to fight — easier to just never submit to them again.

        • says

          The incarceration rate of scholarly articles is going down too. The Cambridge number theorist Tim Gowers (FRS, Fellow of Trinity, Royal Society 2010 Anniversary Research Professor – the gongs and whistles matter here) is for instance leading a boycott of Elsevier in his field of pure mathematics, and has launched a new open-access journal.

  2. Bruce Ross says

    It’s my understanding that the overall drop in the U.S. prison population is almost entirely thanks to California, which in turn is almost entirely thanks to the federal courts and not the Obama administration.

    Has the incarceration rate in federal prisons — where the administration might have some sway — changed notably?

    • Keith Humphreys says

      Bruce: There is no question that law enforcement and incarceration in the U.S. is primarily a state matter. Yet the federal government influences states even though it can’t control them. For example, by funding diversion programs through grants to states the federal gov’t can help reduce state level incarceration. Signalling also means to matter. In the late 1980s when the War on Drugs was the big political blast coming from Washington, many states appointed drug czars who mimed the federal drug czar (and more generally, only people who don’t understand politics and culture think the rhetoric of Presidential Administrations doesn’t matter). Going the other way, when the federal crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity was curtailed, it gave some reform minded state legislators space to change state level sentencing. Finally there is what the federal government pressures states on. The GW Bush Administration pressured states not to decriminalize MJ and demonized those who did, the Obama Administration in contrast has not done that: Three states including California decriminalized and the Administration said absolutely nothing about it.

      • Bruce Ross says

        No doubt the leadership can shift the political tone over the long run. The specific changes, however, were actually highlighted by DOJ in its December report:

        “The overall decline in 2011 was due to the decrease in state prisoners, down 21,614 prisoners or 1.5 percent from 2010. The reduction in California’s prison population under the Public Safety Realignment policy accounted for 72 percent of the total decrease in state prisoners. The federal prison population offset the decline in the states with an increase of 6,591 prisoners (up 3.1 percent) from 2010 to 2011.”

        So the Obama administration might be signalling diversion, but Holder’s DOJ is still locking up more people. And the really big decline is just California hitting a wall in its prison policies (hopefully — hopefully — for the good in the long run; we’ll see).

  3. says

    “a euphemism for legalization of the production, supply, advertising and use of currently illegal drugs.”

    I’ve been a drug policy reformer for a couple of decades and this is news to me. Usually “health-oriented” refers to shifting emphasis and resources from law enforcement (supply reduction) to prevention, treatment and harm reduction (demand reduction), to treating problematic drug use more like a public health problem than a criminal justice problem.

    Politicians and prohibitionists have been calling for a “balanced approach,” with equal emphasis on supply and demand reduction, for longer than I’ve been involved.

    See “This Is Your Government On Drugs”

    To the extent “health-oriented” is a euphemism for legally regulating production and supply, most proposed regulatory regimes I’ve seen suggest restrictions on advertizing.

    Can you provide an example of reformer literature that calls for a “health oriented” approach without restrictions on advertising?