White House Releases Drug Strategy Amid Criticism from Reformers 2/12/99

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Scott Ehlers, Senior Policy Analyst, Drug Policy Foundation, [email protected]

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released its 1999 National Drug Control Strategy this week, calling for $17.8 billion to be spent in FY 2000. The request represents an increase of $735 million (+4.3%) over 1999's regular appropriations, and $1.1 billion (+6.5%) more than the projected FY 2000 budget included in last year's strategy. (See also "Clinton's New Drug Control Strategy Repeats Mistakes of Past," online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/077.html#strategy in last week's Week Online.)

The strategy is seeking to reduce illicit drug use and supply by 50 percent by 2007. Domestic marijuana cultivation should be reduced by 50 percent as well, and the Department of Agriculture will begin conducting annual crop estimates to track the government's progress in its efforts to eradicate the plant.

The plan received its usual lashing from reformers and Republicans alike, but drug policy reformers dominated the press coverage of the strategy's release. The Associated Press quoted Ethan Nadelmann of the Lindesmith Center (http://www.lindesmith.org) as saying, "Unfortunately, it's just another example of throwing billions of dollars down the bottomless pits of interdiction and failed prevention programs." The Washington Post quoted the Drug Policy Foundation as characterizing the strategy as being "hypocritical and disappointing," and Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (http://www.cjpf.org) as saying, "This is a betrayal of what the White House says it's doing, promising a balanced strategy when it is lopsided." Sterling was referring to the fact that 66% of the strategy's budget will go to law enforcement, prisons, and other supply reduction efforts, while only 34% goes to drug prevention and treatment.

Oddly enough, the only Republican response came from Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who criticized the White House for talking about prevention and treatment, but spending the vast majority of its budget on law enforcment. He told the Orange County Register, "My concern is that the president's budget priorities don't match the rhetoric from the White House."

One area of "prevention" that the White House is supporting is "countering attempts to legalize drugs" and "countering attempts to legalize marijuana" (p. 52-54). Much of the anti-legalization section is devoted to attacking harm reduction by mischaracterizing it as a ruse for legalization. According to the strategy, "The real intent of many harm-reduction supporters is the legalization of drugs, which would be a mistake... At best, harm reduction is a half-hearted approach that would accept defeat. Increasing help is better than decreasing harm." Assuming that the current policy is considered to be "increasing help," one might ask how prison, the refusal of college financial aid and education, forced joblessness, and the refusal to fund proven HIV-prevention programs like syringe exchange "increase help?" The strategy failed to address that question.

In regard to medical marijuana, the strategy claims that the "U.S. medical-scientific process has not closed the door on marijuana or any other substance that may offer therapeutic benefits," but that process cannot be subverted by state initiatives. The strategy also notes that "hemp cultivation would result in de facto legalization of marijuana cultivation because both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant..." But according to the strategy, a Department of Agriculture review of university studies shows that hemp is unlikely to be a sustainable, economically viable alternative crop, so, according to the government, there really isn't a need to legalize the crop.

In order to combat "encroaching efforts to justify legalization," the 1999 Strategy outlines ways to "counter the potential harm such activities pose." The countermeasures include: "informing state and local government as well as community coalitions and civic organizations about the techniques associated with the drug legalization movement" and "working with the international community to reinforce mutual efforts against drug legalization."

Will the Clinton administration begin educating community groups on how to counter Steve Forbes' efforts to create a federal flat tax? Will its next target be the National Rifle Association's attempts to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons? Or will changes in drug policy continue to be the only public policy reforms that the Clinton administration actively opposes with Americans' tax dollars? Stay tuned to find out.

The 1999 National Drug Control Strategy is online at <http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/policy/ndcs.html>. The Drug Policy Foundation's press release on the 1999 Strategy is located at <http://www.dpf.org/html/prstrategy.html>.

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Issue #78, 2/12/99 Announcements | As Certification Debate Nears, Mexico Declares "Total War" on Drugs | White House Releases Drug Strategy Amid Criticism from Reformers | New York State's Top Judge Calls for Rethinking of Rockefeller Drug Laws | County Requests Federal Okay to Conduct Medical Marijuana Study | Impact of the Closure of a Needle Exchange Program | Editorial: Young Entrepreneurs and the Culture of Prohibition
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