Transforming Drug Laws in the United States: From Retributive to Restorative Justice


Obama Drops 'War on Drugs' Rhetoric for Approach Based on Science and Health

"With escalating violence along our Southwest border and far too many suffering from addiction here at home, never has it been more important to have a national drug control strategy guided by sound principles of public safety and public health." - President Barack Obama

On March 16, 2009 the Obama Administration made it clear that it would be shifting from an approach of prohibition which took the form of a 'war on drugs' and 'zero tolerance' policies in previous administrations, to an approach of prevention and harm reduction, which are both grounded in public health and safety. Assistant Secretary of State, David Johnson, said the new administration would embrace policies which support federally funded needle exchange programs because the aim of the administration is to establish drug policies based on public health needs.

The executive director of the Drugs Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, welcomed the change. "These statements really indicate a significant shift," he said. "It's not just a repudiation of the Bush administration, it's a repudiation of the Clinton administration. This signals a new direction in US drug policy. This is about all the leading scientists and all the public health people pushing in the same direction and Obama saying he's putting science above politics."

The appointment of Gil Kerlikowske as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as  Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration are also viewed as positive shifts towards federal drug policy grounded in public health and science.

Gil Kerlikowske-The Nation's New Drug Czar

After serving as the Chief of Police for Seattle for 9 years, Kerlikowske was appointed director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on March 11, 2009. Although the Obama administration will remove the job's cabinet designation, Kerlikowske will have full access and a direct line to the president and the vice president.  Mr. Kerlikowske will be charged with producing the National Drug Control Strategy. The Strategy directs the Nation's anti-drug efforts and establishes a program, a budget, and guidelines for cooperation among Federal, State, and local entities.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg-Commissioner of the FDA

Dr. Hamburg was nominated to the position of Commissioner of the FDA on March 14, 2009. The Office of the Press Secretary claims that Dr. Hamburg is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in public health and medicine, and an authority on global health, public health systems, infectious disease, bioterrorism and emergency preparedness. She won accolades as New York city's health commissioner during the 1990's for persuading then-mayor David Dunkins to support needle-exchange programs to slow the spread of AIDS among drug addicts as well as with their sexual partners.