When David Simon, creator of HBO's late dramatic crime series "The Wire," heard that Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to see the series return for a sixth season, he offered the nation's top prosecutor a deal.
He'll start working on a sequel season, Simon responded in an e-mail to the Times of London, "if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanizing drug prohibition."
Holder was not available to comment, but it's a safe bet Simon's deal asks too much of the Obama administration. Despite declarations to the contrary, Team Obama appears to be stuck in the 40-year-old rut better known as the "war on drugs."
That's how long it has been since President Richard Nixon on June 17, 1971, announced $155 million in new anti-drug funding that he would later call "the war on drugs." A third of the funds would go after drug traffickers and two-thirds of it would be aimed at treatment and rehabilitation. That's called a balanced approach, but it didn't last long.
The lock-'em-up side surged with the mandatory-minimum sentencing under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, largely in reaction to the rise of a crack cocaine epidemic and related street violence.
I come not to praise drug use. I condemn it. But some drug fights work better than others.
A new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, calls the global war on drugs a costly failure "with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."
They urged the Obama administration and other governments to try new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, to deny profits to drug cartels and focus law enforcement on violent offenders. The White House immediately responded: No way.
Obama's drug office fired back with statistics that claimed huge declines in drug use since the peak of the late 1970s. But correlations between those declines and the drug war are highly disputed. What's indisputable is the increased incarceration of millions of Americans, many for simple possession.
To his credit, Holder has called for the U.S. Sentencing Commission to release some of the 12,000 federal prisoners who were sentenced or arrested for crack cocaine before Congress changed the sentencing law last year to reduce the disparity between crack and cocaine. Holder recommended early release for 5,500 prisoners whose crimes did not involve the use of weapons and who did not have long criminal histories. The releases, which could begin this year, would be a good start.
But why, we should reasonably ask, should people be subject to prison terms if their only offense is their use of illegal substances?
"Drug addiction should be handled as a health issue," says Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
LEAP favors drug legalization and strict regulation. That means, arrest the sellers and send users to treatment. "It's easier to beat a drug addiction," Franklin observed, "than to beat the devastating impact of a prison sentence."
Franklin is a former narcotics officer with the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department. He finds it tragic that Obama, the first president to be elected after revealing his youthful drug indiscretions, has not done more to help today's nonviolent offenders get a second chance. So do I.