FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Obama’s Drug War Budget

President Obama’s newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush’s, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention. This despite the fact that Obama said on the campaign trail drug use should be treated as a health issue not a criminal justice issue. And despite his drug czar telling the Wall Street Journal last year the war on drugs should be ended. While the president appears unwilling to change how taxpayer money is misspent, he can still seek reform. The White House’s forthcoming 2010 drug strategy is the best opportunity to do that.

The Administration has already directed federal law enforcement to stop arresting medical marijuana patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The White House also worked with Congress to repeal the provision blocking states from using their share of prevention money on syringe exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. The Administration has also urged Congress to repeal the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, a policy that is creating enormous racial disparities and causing law enforcement agencies to waste resources on low-level offenders instead of dismantling violent crime syndicates.

These are all very good reforms and Obama deserves praise for championing them, but rolling back some of the most horrific excesses of the war on drugs is a far cry from actually ending the war on drugs. The Obama Administration has yet to articulate even a crude vision of what it means to treat drug use as a health issue. Having failed miserably to change the drug war budget, the White House should use its forthcoming drug strategy to lay out a shift in U.S. drug policy.

First, the strategy should state the U.S. now takes an evidence-based approach to drug policy. Previous administrations showed time and time again they valued ideology and politics over science. The Bush Administration, for instance, opposed not just making sterile syringes available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS but also distributing naloxone to prevent fatal drug overdoses, despite enormous evidence these policies save lives without increasing drug use. Obama’s drug strategy should embrace both policies and make clear his Administration will go where the science and evidence leads.

Second, the strategy should seek to reduce not just drug use and the problems associated with drug use but also the damage being caused by punitive drug policies. This would be a stark departure from previous administrations that ignored rising prison populations, civil rights abuses, broken families, and other problems associated with drug law enforcement. Obama’s drug strategy should provide a thorough accounting of the negative consequences of the war on drugs and lay out a plan for reducing them.

Third, the strategy should reject the ridiculous fantasy of achieving a “drug-free” society. There has never been a drug-free nation and never will be. No matter how many “Just Say No” commercials are put on TV, a large number of Americans will say “yes”. President Obama said yes. So did Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and tens of millions of other Americans. The government’s own studies show that the millions spent on these ad campaigns was wasted and may have encouraged more drug use among young people. Obama’s drug strategy should admit this and include policies designed to keep those who use drugs as safe and healthy as possible.

Finally, the strategy should recognize that Washington doesn’t have all the answers. New Mexico and New York are moving towards a model public health approach to drugs. Texas is implementing new performance measures for drug law enforcement. Legislators from California to New Hampshire want to put drug traffickers out of business by taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol. Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and other cities have innovative harm reduction programs. Obama’s drug strategy should encourage states to try new approaches and urge policymakers to bring all options to the table.

President Obama spoke for millions of Americans when he said drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. To his credit he has taken significant steps in that direction during his first year. He has failed, however, to change the drug war budget in a meaningful way. Hopefully his forthcoming drug strategy will lay out a new direction for U.S. drug policy.

BILL PIPER is director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 11, 2019
Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider
Class War Violence: Centralia 1919
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
“Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits
Peter Linebaugh
The Worm in the Apple
Joseph Natoli
In the Looming Shadow of Civil War
Robert Fisk
How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces”
Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership
Naomi Oreskes
The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All
Fred Gardner
Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission
Howard Lisnoff
The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance
Nino Pagliccia
The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections
Kim C. Domenico
To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal
Marc Levy
Veterans’ Day: Four Poems
Weekend Edition
November 08, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution
Sarah Shenker
My Friend Was Murdered for Trying to Save the Amazon
Rob Urie
Left is the New Right, or Why Marx Matters
Andrew Levine
What Rises to the Level of Impeachability?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Enter Sondland
Matthew Hoh
And the Armies That Remained Suffer’d: Veterans, Moral Injury and Suicide
Kirkpatrick Sale
2020: The Incipient Bet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Growing Ecological Civilization in China
Conn Hallinan
Middle East: a Complex Re-alignment
Robert Hunziker
Ignoring Climate Catastrophes
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Repatriate the Children of the Jihad
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Neoliberalism’s Children Rise Up to Demand Justice in Chile and the World
John McMurtry
From Canada’s Election to Public Action: Beyond the Moral Tumor of Alberta Tar-Sands
Pete Dolack
Pacifica’s WBAI Back on the Air But Fight for Non-Corporate Radio Continues
Steven Krichbaum
Eating the Amazon
Louis Proyect
A Socialist Party in Our Time?
Norman Solomon
The Crass Warfare of Billionaires Against Sanders and Warren
Ramzy Baroud
Microsoft Should Not Fund Israeli Spying on Palestinians
Ben Terrall
Nelson Algren and the Pathologies of Life in the USA
John Kendall Hawkins
Flying Leaps, 30 Years Later
Roger Harris
Sierra Club Takes a Commendable Turn on Population, Climate Change, and Inequality
Martha Rosenberg
A New Disease Big Meat Doesn’t Want You to Know About
Dan Bacher
Illegal Loggers Murder Indigenous Forest Guardian in Brazilian Amazon
Christopher Brauchli
The Contemptible Secretary DeVos
Ralph Nader
America’s Streets and Squares Are Waiting: Massive Rallies Work!
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
New Mexico Postcard: The Call of the Sandhill Cranes
Ted Rall
Progressives Care More About Taking the Democratic Party Than Getting Rid of Trump
Philip Doe
Just Another Whitewash: the Federal Investigation of the Firestone Fracking Fire in Colorado 
Dean Baker
The Problems with the “Swiss Model”
Jesse Jackson
A Long Overdue Debate on Medicare-for-All
Brett Wilkins
30 Years Ago, American Nun Dianna Ortiz Was Kidnapped and Tortured in Guatemala, She’s Still Waiting for Truth & Justice
Mel Gurtov
From President to Autocrat
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail