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The Uncertain Future of the War on Drugs
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The Uncertain Future of the War on Drugs

Donald Trump has been the President-elect of the United States of America for four weeks.

As he chugs through the process of forming his new administration, it is now time to question whether the political climate in Washington D.C. will change come January. Namely, whether or not the War on Drugs will be revitalized or scaled back.

For those that support ending the Drug War and fundamentally changing our approach to substance control, Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General is troubling.

President Obama: Drug Policy Reformer?

President Obama, a short two months before departing office, has made a public effort to nudge U.S. drug policy in a direction opposite that of his predecessors. Starting in 1971, after Richard Nixon declared the beginning of the War on Drugs, the federal government has expended billions of dollars on law enforcement and corrections grants and expenditures in an effort to crack down on illegal substance use, possession, production, and distribution.

Instead of following the precedent set by his contemporary Republican and Democratic predecessors of continued prosecution of the War on Drugs, President Obama has decided to mark a reversal of federal drug policy by commuting the sentences of hundreds of drug offenders. He asserts that the prison sentences imposed during the peak of the Drug War were unfair and too severe. The Obama Administration has made drug policy reform and a scaling back of the War on Drugs a major issue in the closing days of the administration.

Enter Sessions Stage Right

In April of this year, during a Senate hearing, Jeff Sessions proudly declared that, “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” a sign that he could potentially throw “a wrench into the works” of the reforms pushed by the Obama Administration.

Given that morally and ethically debatable declaration, and a long history of opposing drug legalization, many political science scholars believe Sessions will err on the side of “Law and Order.” A return to “Law and Order,” per Trump’s campaign promises, could potentially entail a jumpstarted effort by a Sessions-led Department of Justice to prosecute offenders involved with marijuana. This scenario would be a dramatic reversal of President Obama’s reversal on US drug policy. Perhaps we will witness a reinvigorated effort in prosecuting drug offenders and a re-commitment to an expansion of the US domestic policing and corrections apparatus to clamp down on illicit substances, much to President Obama’s chagrin.

The fate of the War on Drugs is in a state of purgatory; President Obama is currently attempting to signal its scaling back and eventual end, but Trump’s nomination of Sessions threatens to re-energize an arguably failed and destructive federal campaign.

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