Feature: Federal Drug Budget Continues Modest Downward Trend, but Strategy Promises Same Old Same Old 2/10/06

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With tax cuts and the war on terror competing for dollars, even the drug war is not exempt from the budget-cutter's ax. The Bush administration's 2007 budget proposal, released Monday, cuts drug war spending along with just about everything other than military. At the same time, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) unveiled its 2006 national drug strategy, with twin emphases on the dangers of marijuana and the need to more tightly monitor patients using prescription drugs.

Despite intense criticism of the National Anti-Drug Media Campaign, the source of widely criticized ads linking marijuana with terrorism, teen pregnancy, running over small children, and sticking one's fist in one's mouth, the 2007 budget calls for an increase of 20% to $120 million next. Similarly, the Drug Free Communities Act escapes the budget axe, as does the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program, both of which see funding levels unchanged.

But programs in line for cuts include treatment, prevention and law enforcement programs. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) is to be cut by $12.3 million from this year's $193 million, while the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) would see $24 million shaved from its 2006 funding level of $390 million. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) would see insignificant decreases.

State grants and national programs for treatment and prevention would be zeroed out, saving more than half a billion dollars.

On the law enforcement side, the Bush administration once again calls for eliminating the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) program, cutting completely the $416 million that funded it this year. While Congress has repeatedly refused to kill the program, it has voted compromise cuts in it the last three years. The administration also proposed massive cuts in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, a Clinton era legacy. The 2007 Bush budget would slash COPS funding by 78%, or some $376 million. Also again on the list for cuts is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, originally intended to guard the borders, but which has evolved into a massive pork-barrel with HIDTAs popping up in such drug war free-fire zones as rural South Dakota and Missouri.

"A lot of this is just smoke and mirrors," said Doug McVay, research director for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "Yes, it is true the president has offered to cut some funding, but just as it years past, the cuts will probably not make it through the budget process," he told DRCNet. "This is a stunt pioneered by Reagan: Hand up a budget that is just garbage, dead on arrival, though no one will say that out loud. Then leave it to Congress to make the tough decisions -- and it won't."

"We really see more of the same, with no fundamental shift in their policy," said David Williams, vice-president for policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, a taxpayer group that last year called for deep cuts in some drug war programs. "We're concerned that especially with the media campaign they will continue to spend millions of dollars on a program that does not get to the heart of the drug problem. They're going after marijuana users, and while people shouldn't be using any illegal drugs, this campaign has not been shown to be effective."

It's not just that the program hasn't been shown to work, Williams told DRCNet. "We asked ONDCP how much those ads are costing, and their response was that the media outlets will not release the cost per spot, so neither will they. We're concerned that our tax dollars are being spent without any accountability."

"The administration is basically just going with the status quo," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We're seeing essentially level funding for drug treatment and some modest increases for DEA and the FBI, but nothing substantial. Bush continues to try to cut some of the law enforcement programs he has aimed in the past, such as the Justice Assistance Grants, and to cut the Safe and Drug Free Schools program. This is not so different from last year," Piper told DRCNet.

"What will happen," McVay predicted, "is that we'll see some cuts in areas we don't necessarily want to see cuts, such as pilot programs in treatment and prevention, but decreases in law enforcement spending won't stand. Treatment providers are nice people, but they just don't compare with the lobbying power of groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the like. When congresspeople look out and see a sea of people wearing blue uniforms and badges, they just buckle. The Bush budget has some cuts in it, yes, but at the end of the day, I don't think we'll see real changes."

Right on cue, the IACP warned this week that the administration's drug war budget cuts would be "devastating for local law enforcement agencies." The group decried cuts for what it called "some of the most successful anticrime programs," including the JAG program and COPS programs. "The proposed $1.1 billion in cuts continues the disturbing trend by both the Bush administration and Congress of significantly slashing the funding for critical state and local law enforcement assistance programs," the IACP complained.

Other groups whose oxen have been gored are also up in arms. The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a hybrid group that is part treatment and prevention advocate, part drug war propagandists, and which has survived for years by suckling at the federal teat, is rousing its membership. Warning that programs it supports are on the chopping block, CADCA this week warned that "this is a particularly critical year for advocacy." To avoid "draconian" and "devastating" cuts, "we will need to flood Congress with letters" to ensure programs are maintained or restored, the group said.

Piper was more sanguine than McVay about actually seeing cuts in programs like the JAG program, which funds the multi-jurisdictional drug task force that have scoured the country in recent years. "Bush has urged eliminating it outright, and Congress doesn't do that, but it has agreed to cuts in each of the last three years."

But Piper agreed with McVay that there is gamesmanship at play. "Bush gets to position himself as a fiscal conservative," Piper said, generously not mentioning the towering deficits the 2007 Bush budget would only add to, "and there is a strong case for cutting those programs. If Congress fails to cut them, he can then blame Congress."

Congress will not cut programs without prodding, said Williams. "We try to embarrass them into acting," he told DRCNet. "They won't cut this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts, so we try to show the lack of effectiveness of programs and the lack of oversight on ONDCP."

It's not just the drug czar's office that is the problem, but congressional process as well, Williams added. "Combating methamphetamine is a good thing, but if you look at the meth bill, it is just full of earmarks," or what is known in the common parlance as pork barrel spending. "It should not be left to the politicians to decide where this money is to be spent. We have an agency that is supposed to be setting priorities. If states or communities have projects they want to fund, let them do it on a competitive grant basis, not through earmarks. They're really annoying."

While the budget process will be long, boring, and brutal, drug czar John Walters hit the ground running with the 2006 National Drug Strategy, flying to Denver Wednesday to unveil his latest plan. The location was no coincidence; Denver is where voters in November decided that adult possession of marijuana should be legal. A statewide marijuana regulation initiative is in the works. That Walters would open his campaign there can only be seen as a clear indication ONDCP intends once again this year to wage war against any efforts to roll back the marijuana laws anywhere.

Walters of course denied that, saying that he chose Denver because it was a "transportation hub" for drugs and because of its meth lab problems. But groups like the Marijuana Policy Project weren't buying that, nor were they impressed with attacks on drug reform funder George Soros, repeated by Walters in Denver Wednesday.

"It is not a coincidence that John Walters took his junket to Denver, where voters dealt a stinging rebuke to the government's war on marijuana," said MPP Director of Government Relations Aaron Houston. "This document signals that the administration will continue using tax dollars to campaign against common-sense reforms, while wasting billions on failed policies. While Walters continues to rail against supposed 'well-funded drug legalizers,' our efforts are dwarfed by the government's massive prohibition bureaucracy," Houston said. "The drug czar's office spends over four times as much on advertising alone as drug policy reform groups spend on everything we do put together -- salaries, rent, the whole works."

Walters was in fine Reefer Madness form, warning that marijuana is a gateway drug that can cause mental illness, a trope increasingly heard in Britain and Australia, where the weed is apparently so strong its mere mention causes madness in politicians. "This is not your father's marijuana or your father's marijuana problem," he scolded, adding that a million teen pot smokers have become "addicts."

Mason Tvert, campaign director for Safer Alternatives for Recreational Marijuana (SAFER), the group the spearheaded the successful Denver initiative, scoffed at Walters' remarks. "Marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse," Tvert told reporters. "You can get addicted to cheeseburgers, too."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was quick to launch a counterattack against Walters' claims of a link between pot and madness. Citing its recent report, "Cannabis, Mental Health and Context: The Case For Regulation," the group issued a statement noting: "To date, there is a limited body of data noting an association albeit a minor one between early use of cannabis and increased symptoms of depression, psychotic symptoms, and/or schizophrenia based on a handful of longitudinal studies. This statement, however, is hardly an indictment of marijuana's relative safety when used in moderation by adults or an endorsement of the federal government's efforts to criminally prohibit its use for all Americans. If anything, just the opposite is true."

The 2007 budget has been released, the national drug strategy has been announced, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Let this year's games begin.

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Issue #422 -- 2/10/06

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Editorial: I Was Almost on TV Last Week | Feature: Federal Drug Budget Continues Modest Downward Trend, but Strategy Promises Same Old Same Old | Feature: States, Colleges Block Financial Aid to Students with Drug Convictions Even When They Don't Have To, DRCNet-sponsored Study Finds | Feature: With Australia in the Grip of Reefer Madness, New South Wales Moves to Severely Punish the Dreaded "Hydro" | Europe: Italy Takes a Giant Step Backward | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Medical Marijuana: California County Drops Federal Lawsuit, Will Seek to Overturn Compassionate Use Act in State Court | Harm Reduction: Pediatricians Back Needle Exchange Programs | Chronic Pain: Florida Pain Patient Appeals Drug Trafficking Sentence Amidst Media Glare | In Memoriam: Al Lewis Dead at 82 -- Best Known as "Grandpa Munster," Actor Was Also Activist and Drug Law Reformer | Web Scan: New LEAP Video, Reason on Bush's Drug Warriors, Afghan Farmers in London, Conservatives Attacked Over Soros Link, Humanists Resolution | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar


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