The so-called “war on drugs” isn’t going well– 44,000 Americans die every year from drug overdoses, more than are killed by either car accidents or gun violence. 

Former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke floated the idea of legalizing drugs back in the 1990s. Schmoke, who is currently the president of the University of Baltimore, argued that the city’s focus should be on treatment and rehabilitation, not strictly punishment, did not get his way. But 20 years later, Schmoke’s ideas are finally starting to gain mainstream traction, as the New York Times reports.

In response to the rapid resurgence of heroin use (and heroin overdoses), many people are urging a “gentler” approach to drug users, one that’s more rehabilitative and less punitive. It’s notable that the drug that’s inspiring this new approach is overwhelmingly used by white people, while the punitive effects of the war on drugs disproportionately harmed black people.

In 1995, Schmoke told the New York Times that “treatment and prevention have to equal law enforcement” when it comes to dealing with drugs. This week, he mused to the same paper about “the lives that could have been saved, the families that would have remained intact” if we’d followed that approach. “Hopefully,” he added,  “we’ve seen the error of our ways and are going to move in a different direction.”

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