FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail