The Bush administration released its fiscal year 2008 budget Monday, and when it comes to drug policy, it's pretty much business as usual. According to an Office of National Drug Control Policy fact sheet, the overall federal drug control budget requested for next year is $12.91 billion, up $200 million from the $12.7 million requested this year.
ONDCP highlighted increases in controversial and unproven programs, such as an increase in funding for random student drug testing to nearly $18 million, up from $7.5 million in 2007. Another controversial program seeing a budget increase is the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, from $100 million in 2007 up to $130 million next year.
Also seeing significant increases are the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral and Treatment (SBIRT) program, which aims to promote early diagnosis of drug use and intervention by health care providers, up $11.5 million to $41.2 million in 2008, and the Drug Courts program, with its funding more than tripled from $10.1 million this year to $31.8 million next year.
Funding for Plan Colombia, or as it is now officially known, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative will decline from $721 million in 2007 to $635.5 million in 2008. Funding for anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, on the other hand, will increase from $297 million this year to $327.6 million next year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will see its budget increase from $1.684 billion to $1.803 billion. Similarly, the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Drug Task Force will get $509 million, up from $485 million this year.
Some of the items ONDCP wasn't bragging about include cuts in funding for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (down 20%), the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (down 12%), and state grants under the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, which were slashed dramatically from $346.5 million this year to a proposed $100 million next year. The budget also zeroes out completely state grants for Alcohol Use and Reduction programs. Those grants totaled $32 million this year.
Also facing continuing efforts to cut its budget is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, with the Bush administration seeking to cut its current year budget of $224.7 million down to $220 million. And while it is not yet clear whether the Bush administration will continue its efforts to eliminate the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants program, a coalition of law enforcement lobbying groups is already urging Congress to fund it at $1.1 billion, more than double the $450 million it will get this year. The Byrne grants pay for the notorious multi-agency drug task forces running roughshod around the country, but they can also be used for prevention and treatment grants.
"This is the same approach they've been using for years," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "They continue to shortchange treatment and prevention and they spend most of the money on enforcement and interdiction. They continue to use sloppy accounting; for instance, ONDCP puts the overall drug budget at $12 billion, but they don't include the costs of imprisoning 100,000 federal drug offenders."
"This $12 billion figure is a sham, just as the federal drug control budget has been for the past few years" said Doug McVay, research director for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "It excludes the $3 billion we're paying each year to incarcerate drug offenders, and there are hidden, black budget intelligence and military funds that go to the drug war. I'd estimate the feds are really spending more like $22 billion in drug control across the agencies."
"I see they want more money for student drug testing and the anti-drug media campaign, which is a bit of a surprise given all the evidence of the failure of these programs," Piper said. "Given that they're talking about balancing the budget by 2012, it seems like they wouldn't be expanding failed programs, but they are."
Efforts to restore Byrne grant funding concerned Piper. "I'm worried that the Democrats are going to restore funding to that program that funds the drug task forces," he said. "Still, some states are using the funds for reentry programs, treatment, drug courts, things like that. The $500,000 grant we got in New Mexico was a Byrne grant," Piper laughed. That grant funds a methamphetamine prevention and education program.
"I think the Byrne grants should be done away with," said McVay, "and the money should be used to put police on the street to stop property crime and violent crime. As drug reformers, we have to be careful. We don't want to put ourselves in the position of telling the public we don't want enough police on the streets to keep them from getting mugged."
Time will tell with the Byrne grant program, as it will with the entire 2008 Bush budget. At this point, the budget is a fantasy document, a wish list that is sure to be hacked to pieces in Congress. But it also lays out the Bush administration's position on where the nation's drug policy should go and how much we should pay for it, and the answers are down the same old path and a few billion more.