Earlier this week, we renewed our call for a shift in Maine’s drug policy priorities in response to an announcement that Maine will receive $900,000 from the federal government to ramp up the war on drugs in this state, specifically focusing on meth-related arrests. While more money to fight drug abuse seems like a good thing, this announcement left much to be desired. As we've said before, we can't simply expect the criminal justice system to solve what is fundamentally a public health issue. Until we curb the demand for drugs by investing in treatment programs, people will always find ways satisfy their addictions.
So, we were cheered today to learn that Maine will also be the recipient of $7.5 million to fight substance abuse through community education and treatment programs. This is exactly the kind of forward-looking solution we need to help Maine communities fight substance abuse. In his speech in Bangor announcing the award, U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli echoed our view that “We can’t arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem.”
That's the approach we've taken during the last four decades of the war on drugs, and it has failed. Increased arrests and incarceration for drug offenses haven't lowered our state's dependency on drugs, but they have increased the number of Mainers who are in and out of our jails and prisons, at a huge fiscal and societal cost to taxpayers.
Scaling up the criminal justice system while neglecting treatment programs doesn't work. It's time to reverse the equation and put treatment and prevention first.