U.S. President Barack Obama is moving in the right direction in the war on drugs, saying it should be a health issue, not a crime.
After 40 years and $1 trillion wasted, the war on drugs has been a resounding failure. It has had ruinous consequences in the United States and in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The drug war has given America the world's largest prison population, at nearly 2.5 million people, or roughly one in 100 Americans.
The United States has five per cent of the world's population, but almost 25 per cent of the world's prisoners.
Many nonviolent drug offenders, who shouldn't have been locked up in the first place, are languishing behind bars.
Moreover, this war on drugs also has been a war on black and brown people, who are 70 per cent of the American prison population. Unfair drug sentencing for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine targeted communities of colour for years.
Drug criminalization separates parents from their children with prison bars and destroys urban neighbourhoods by shipping their adult population to prisons in white rural areas, often hundreds of miles away from home.
People who could be productive members of society, good citizens, taxpayers and community leaders are rotting in jail because of the war on drugs. And when they return to society, they cannot find a job because of a felony record.
Our drug policies have also helped spark violence in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Drug mafias have taken over the region because drugs in the United States are illegal and the demand for them is still high.
Look at Mexico, where almost 23,000 people have been murdered in the last three and a half years, as drug-related gang violence has exploded.
Or take Jamaica, which declared a state of emergency after supporters of an alleged drug kingpin wanted in the United States torched two police stations and barricaded the slums of Kingston, the capital.
The Obama administration has taken a step forward with its new National Drug Control Strategy.
President Obama says he plans to treat illegal drug use as more of a public health issue than a criminal justice problem.
And Obama's strategy claims to take a balanced approach by focusing on prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
For example, there is an emphasis on community-based prevention focusing on young people.
The president also calls for early intervention and addiction treatment in substance-abuse cases, curbing subscription drug abuse and breaking the cycle of drug use, criminality and incarceration.
Nevertheless, it is uncertain the Obama White House will put its money where its mouth is.
Nearly two-thirds of the $15.6-billion federal drug control budget request is devoted to law enforcement and interdiction, which is just more of the same old same old.
The strategy's success depends on whether the administration stays true to its own words and devotes the resources necessary to deal with drug abuse as a public health issue.
Treating it as a criminal justice issue doesn't work.