The Obama Administration has released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy today. As usual, this Administration realizes the “War on Drugs is an utter failure” – as a propaganda meme, at least – and attempts to paint its prohibitionist policies as a public health strategy balanced between the extremes of prohibition and legalization.
President Obama and Drug Czar Kerlikowske refer to their prohibition strategies as a “balanced approach” that includes “prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, law enforcement, and international cooperation.” They even provide an infographic touting their “Record of Reform” that includes this handy graph of the “balance” in the Drug War budget.
Well, they spend more on prevention and treatment than they do on law enforcement and incarceration! How balanced! The problem is those other two bars called “Interdiction” and “International Programs”. Interdiction is when law enforcement chops down pot plants in the forest, eradicates coca crops in South America and poppy fields in Asia, and intercepts drug shipments. International Programs is when we give money and arms and intelligence equipment to foreign governments to perform Drug War law enforcement and interdiction, which, as we just mentioned, is a law enforcement activity. In other words, the “balance” in this budget is tilted 3:2 in favor of law enforcement and incarceration.
If you take a deep look into the approved 2012 Drug War budget, you’ll find that the administration’s tilt toward law enforcement has actually become slightly more pronounced. Supply reduction (Domestic Law Enforcement + Interdiction + International) went from 59.2% of the 2011 budget to 59.7% of the 2012 budget. For 2013, they’d like to get that down to 58.8%.
And to what end? Why, “a 15 percent reduction in the rate of drug use and similar reductions in drug use consequences over the course of five years (2010-2015)” according to the Drug Czar. That makes me wonder why the Obama Administration felt they had to emphasize treatment and prevention so much? In just 2009, President Bush was issuing his final Drug Control Annual Report, crowing that “we have helped reduce teenage drug use by 25 percent since 2001.” In 2002, Bush’s supply reduction budget comprised 54.4% of the budget and that rose to 65.2% of his 2009 budget. As Bush decreased support for treatment and prevention, “current use of illicit drugs by youth has declined by 25 percent… and youth use of drugs such as MDMA/Ecstasy, LSD, and methamphetamine has dropped… by more than 50 percent.”
The truth is that when drug use patterns rise and fall, they have very little to do with law enforcement. When confronted by escalating drug use numbers, prohibitionists will clamor for more money and enforcement to stop drug use. When the drug use numbers decline, prohibitionists will clamor for more money and enforcement to keep stopping drug use. Despite claiming to want a discussion of legalization, they cannot conceive of just not trying to stop people from using drugs in the first place and instead concentrate on mitigating the harms from the problem users. Use of a drug, even marijuana, is malum in se, it is evil in and of itself and must be stopped! Preferably while drinking a martini and smoking a cigar.
To be fair, the Obama Administration has made progress in reducing sentencing disparities, requiring health insurance to cover addictions treatment, and removing roadblocks for people in recovery to gain housing and employment. But I can’t help but see two separate issues – War on Drugs and War on Marijuana – and while I can give Obama some credit for positive developments in the former, his raids on medical marijuana and intransigence on decriminalization and legalization in the latter give me no comfort.