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
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail