Trump Focus on Drugs: Treatment or Enforcement?

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As the Trump administration shapes its policy on drugs, tension is growing between a treatment-focused approach, embodied in a new opioid commission headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and the aggressive prosecution of drug crimes promised by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Wall Street Journal reports. President Trump signaled support for a less-punitive strategy toward opioids by assigning the task force to Christie, who has focused on drug rehabilitation. At a White House event announcing the commission, two former addicts choked up while telling their recovery stories. “We’re very proud of you,” Trump said. Christie said, “I think the president and I both agree that addiction is a disease, and it’s a disease that can be treated.”

That sympathetic tone contrasted with Trump’s vow last month to a police group to be “ruthless’’ in stopping the drug trade and Sessions’ pledge to “hammer” drug dealers. The attorney general has said publicly that treatment comes “too late” for many addicts and has hinted at stepping up prosecutions of marijuana sales. “We have too much of a tolerance for drug use,” Sessions said. “We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.’ …Lives are at stake, and we’re not going to worry about being fashionable.” The tug of war reflects two different constituencies: traditional conservatives, who favor a crackdown on crime that the president frequently links to illegal immigration and urban areas, and the white, working-class and rural communities who welcome a compassionate focus on the opioid epidemic that has ravaged their areas. The administration announced this week that Richard Baum, who has worked in the Office of National Drug Control Policy for nearly 20 years, will serve as its acting chief.

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