Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head John Walters unveiled the country's 2005 National Drug Control Strategy last week, only to run into criticism from unexpected quarters and research findings that contradicted some of its primary planks. The broad contours of the drug strategy come as no surprise -- it was largely foreshadowed in the 2006 federal budget released last month -- and deviate little from the Bush administration's long-standing commitment to more, better drug war.
Here, in the words of the drug czar's office, is what the National Drug Control Strategy emphasizes:
Walters got at least limited support from a Government Accountability Office (GA0) report issued last month. In its review of the efficacy of drug courts, the GAO found that adult drug courts did result in "recidivism reductions," but could not explain why. Those reductions in re-offending extended to up to one year after the completion of drug court, the watchdog agency found.
But while the GAO could point to reductions in recidivism, it found that evidence that drug courts led to reduced drug use was "limited and mixed." Oddly, the agency found that while drug testing of participants showed reductions in use, self-reporting did not. Furthermore, many drug court participants never make it through the program. The review showed completion rates ranging from 27% to 66%. Not surprisingly, reductions in recidivism and drug use were linked to completion of the drug court program. Still, the GAO concluded, "drug court programs can be an effective way to deal with some offenders."
Walters should have been so lucky with the drug strategy's touting of "success" in eradicating cocaine in Colombia, where the administration wants to spend $734 million this year. While Walters and the drug strategy gloated that the three-year-old aerial eradication campaign against Colombian coca had put a serious dent in cocaine production -- "there is simply less to go around" -- a Rand Corporation report conducted for ONDCP and completed in November, but not released until the day after the drug strategy's coming out party, found that years of eradication efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in Colombia had yielded no results, at least when measured by US street price and purity. To the contrary, Rand found that cocaine prices were at an all-time low, while purity remained high, although not as high as in the late 1980s. "Cumulatively," Rand noted, "powder cocaine prices have declined 80% since 1981."
That finding raised eyebrows among scholars who follow drug supply and demand, who questioned the efficacy of the program. "There is no evidence in these data, any more than there's been evidence in the previous 20 years of data, that massive enforcement succeeds in pushing mass market prices up," Mark Kleiman, director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA, told the Portland Oregonian last week.
"The underlying theory of enforcement is that enforcement increases price and price reduces demand," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Pittsburgh's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. The falling price of cocaine, he said, "is obviously contradictory to the intended effect" of the administration's Andean Initiative.
And while the administration continues to emphasize law enforcement and prevention and the drug budget increased 2.2% over last year's $12.2 billion, that increase was less than the rate of inflation. The result is cuts in some favored programs, including a zeroing-out of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, the slashing of funds for state anti-meth programs, a massive reduction in federal drug-related law enforcement grants, and the virtual elimination of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, all of which have raised howls of protest.
As an analysis of the federal drug budget by Carnevale Associates noted, "The Administration's proposed budget of $12.4 billion for drug control for FY 2006 portends major changes in federal drug control policy. The request increases funding for overseas and interdiction programs to curb the flow of drugs from abroad and enhances border control. It also proposes a net decline in funding for demand reduction programs, reduces or eliminates certain state and local law enforcement programs, and shifts more responsibility for domestic drug control to state and local governments and other partners."
"It is fiscally irresponsible to drastically slash funding for key drug-prevention and public-safety initiatives that help save lives," said US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee's drug policy subcommittee. "Our states cannot shoulder the responsibility of drug control on our own."
If people like Rep. Cummings are hungry for additional funding for prevention and public safety, law enforcers are absolutely insatiable, and deeply perturbed that their sacred cows are headed for the slaughter. The Bush administration's proposed cuts in federal aid to state and local anticrime programs—more than $1.3 billion out of $3 billion in all federal anti-crime aid, including programs earmarked for the drug war—"undermine the basic infrastructure" of homeland security and represent "a major retreat in the recent gains in the war on crime," complained the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents states and localities. In the drug field, some of the biggest losers would be the anti-drug task forces funded through the Byrne law enforcement grant program.
One Alabama lawman who heads a drug task force told the Associated Press his $430,000 budget would vanish. "The task force would be shut down," said Sgt. Jim Winn of Huntsville. "Small towns don't have the money to do narcotics enforcement," he said.
Cops are getting rhetorical support from their elected representatives. The budget cuts would "devastate narcotics enforcement" in Alabama, Rep. Bud Cramer (D) told a congressional hearing last week. "Crystal meth is sweeping through the state. It's going to eat us alive."
A proposed cut in federal funds for anti-methamphetamine efforts in the states is also generating criticism. Last week, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager accused the administration of "abandoning" the states and vowed to lobby to restore the funding.
"At a time when the problem of methamphetamine manufacture, sale and abuse is exploding in Wisconsin communities, the President has announced a 60% cut in the funding states will receive to effectively combat this problem," Lautenschlager. "This is not a strategy in the war on drugs -- this is abandonment, and it couldn't come at a worse time."
But despite the criticisms, beleaguered Bush administration officials are hewing to their position that some cuts were necessary. "The president is very concerned about the deficit," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a Justice Department budget hearing. "Some very difficult decisions were made."
ONCDP spokesman Tom Reilly told the Associated Press the drug budget cuts do not reflect a strategic shift away from demand reduction. "The best way to see this is as an evaluation of programs and which need more money and which need less," Reilly said.