Is addiction a disease?
I don't think so. I think addiction is more akin to temporary insanity than any sort of disease. For instance you can't give up cancer, but if you try really hard and stick with it you can give up cigarettes.
However if you must consider it a disease, why do we penalize people for it? A madman is not held accountable for his actions. He may be institutionalized if he is deemed a danger to himself or others, but he is not fined or jailed (well, this is America, so he maybe jailed or even executed).
You can justify locking up addicts if they are a danger to themselves or others, but what is the harm of smoking a joint or indulging in a seven percent solution of cocaine in the quiet of your own home? How is this any different from enjoying a whiskey and coke or any other alcoholic beverage?
It all adds up to personal responsibility. Merely ingesting an intoxicating substance is no reason to lock someone up and throw away the key. Neither is addiction. America's commitment to such a policy is both asinine and outdated, a leftover of the prudishness that brought us such resounding successes as the 18th Amendment. Moreover, it is contrary to America's tradition of respect for the rights of the individual and self determination.
Money that is spent on the so-called war on drugs could be better spent treating addiction, and on preventative measures to ensure addiction does not happen in the first place. Forty years of addressing mainly the supply side issues has done little to combat the drug epidemic (God, how I wanted to put quotation marks around drug epidemic). Prosecution of addicts, dealers and even smugglers has done little to curb drug usage. Addicts will (almost always) be addicts, dealers are a dime a dozen, and drug smuggling is such a lucrative business that busting a supplier is only a temporary fix.
The failure of the D.A.R.E program is symbolic of the failure of the drug war. It emphasized that drugs, all drugs, are bad. Equally bad. If you smoke a joint, well you must be a junkie. If you shoot up some heroin, same deal, you're still a junkie. Just say no, OK kids? It took the rather fascist view that because drug use is against the law, it must be wrong.
A much more successful program, the Montana Meth Project, emphasized the dangers of addiction. It didn't tell kids that meth isn't fun, or that by doing it they're aiding terrorists or other such bullshit, but that it is addictive, that it will make you ugly, and that it is often fatal. This program emphasized the effects of drug use and addiction on both the user and close to them. Rather than making moral judgments about the substance in question or those who choose to use it, the campaign presented situations where, because of addiction or impairment, people made poor choices and let the viewer make up their own mind. Not only that, but the ad campaign associated with the Montana Meth Project was gritty, vulgar, and most importantly, real in a way that D.A.R.E never was.
Hopefully the Obama administration will not continue the mistakes of the past. What is needed is decriminalization of drug use and the legalization of the so called soft drugs such as marijuana, magic mushrooms and even LSD. The revenue from taxes garnered from the sales of these drugs could be used to promote anti drug campaigns and treatments, such is the case of sales tax revenue from the sales of alcohol and tobacco. Not only that, but licensing growers and makers of these presently illicit drugs would give the government further power to regulate the growers and makers of the drugs to insure that the proceeds from the sales of such do not fund terrorists while providing additional tax revenue.
As Jello Biafra once said "For every prohibition you create you also create an underground," which is what we have been doing, and it needs to stop.