Both the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations would continue supporting treatment programs, with more focus on harm reduction (link to Policy Alternatives and the Debate).

Ford altered Nixon’s drug strategy by prioritizing the actual treatment of heroin addicts over the objective of simply reducing crime. He also commissioned his drug policy advisors to write a review in 1975 (known as ‘White Paper’), which concluded that the U.S. should envision a realistic drug policy that ‘should stop raising expectations of total elimination of drug abuse from our society’, and instead focus on heroin and large-scale traffickers. In one the most prescient insights on drug policy, Ford concluded that drugs should be seen as ‘an enemy we can control, not as one that we could defeat.’ Despite his focus on heroin treatment, Ford increased the budget for heroin interdiction while increasing regular (and instituting mandatory minimum) sentences. By the end of his administration, the budget for enforcement was equal to that of prevention and treatment. By the time Ford left office in 1977, drug use among 18-year olds had grown to 48% (mostly marijuana).

President Carter would focus more resources on treatment and rehabilitation. Carter even advocated for the national depenalization of marijuana, a measure that already had been passed in several states. His drug czar, Peter Bourne, de-emphasized the focus on marijuana and even cocaine. Damaging Carter’s drug reform agenda, however, Bourne had to resign after it was leaked that he had snorted cocaine and smoked marijuana with other White House staffers at a party. While Carter’s drug policies stressed harm reduction, especially for heroin, by the end of his on term, interdiction became the priority. When Carter left office, drug use in the U.S. peaked at 53% among 18-year olds.

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Posted by Anaïs Faure