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The 2011 National Drug Control Strategy: Drug Policy on Autopilot [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #692)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Monday released this year's version of the annual guiding federal document on drug policy, the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, and there's not much new or surprising there. There is a lot of talk about public health, but federal spending priorities remain weighted toward law enforcement despite all the pretty words.

Drug Czar Gil
The strategy identifies three "policy priorities": reducing prescription drug abuse, addressing drugged driving, and increased prevention efforts. It also identifies populations of special interest, including veterans, college students, and women with children.

The strategy promises continued strong law enforcement and interdiction efforts, including going after the opium and heroin trade in Afghanistan and cooperating with Mexican and Central American authorities in the $1.4 billion Plan Merida attack on Mexican drug gangs.

"Drug use affects every sector of society, straining our economy, our healthcare and criminal justice systems, and endangering the futures of our young people," said ONDCP head Gil Kerlikowske in introducing the strategy. "The United States cannot afford to continue paying the devastating toll of illicit drug use and its consequences."

This is all standard stuff. One thing that is new is ONDCP's felt need to fight back against rising momentum to end the drug war, or at least legalize marijuana, and rising acceptance of medical marijuana. The strategy devoted nearly five full pages to argumentation against legalization and medical marijuana.

"Marijuana and other illicit drugs are addictive and unsafe," ONDCP argued in a section titled Facts About Marijuana. "Making matters worse, confusing messages being conveyed by the entertainment industry, media, proponents of 'medical' marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana use is harmless and aim to establish commercial access to the drug. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction."

Just to be clear, ONDCP went on to say flatly "marijuana use is harmful," although it didn't bother to say how harmful or compared to what, nor did it explain why the best public policy approach to a substance that causes limited harm is to criminalize it and its users.

ONDCP also argued that despite medical marijuana being legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia, "the cannabis (marijuana) plant is not a medicine." Somewhat surprisingly, given that the DEA just days ago held that marijuana has no accepted medical use, the national drug strategy conceded that "there may be medical value for some of the individual components of the cannabis plant," but then fell back on the old "smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method" of taking one's medicine.

"This administration steadfastly opposes drug legalization," the strategy emphasized.  "Legalization runs counter to a public health approach to drug control because it would increase the availability of drugs, reduce their price, undermine prevention activities, hinder recovery support efforts, and pose a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth."

It was this section of the strategy that excited the most attention from drug policy reformers. They lined up to lambast its logic.

"It is encouraging that ONDCP felt a need to address both medical marijuana and general legalization of the plant in its 2011 strategy booklet, which was released today," noted Jacob Sullum at the Reason blog. "It is also encouraging that the ONDCP's arguments are so lame… The ONDCP never entertains the possibility that a product could be legal even though it is not harmless. Do the legality of alcohol and tobacco send the message that they are harmless? If you oppose a return to alcohol prohibition, should you be blamed for encouraging kids to drink and making life harder for recovering alcoholics? ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske may have renounced the use of martial rhetoric to describe the government's anti-drug crusade, but he still manages to imply that reformers are traitors whose 'confusing messages' are undermining morale in the nation's struggle against the existential threat of pot smoking."

"It's sad that the drug czar decided to insert a multi-page rant against legalizing and regulating drugs into the National Drug Control Strategy instead of actually doing his job and shifting limited resources to combat the public health problem of drug abuse," said Neill Franklin, director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Obama administration officials continually talk about the fact that addiction is a medical problem, but when our budgets are so strained I cannot understand why they're dumping more money into arrests, punishment and prisons than the Bush administration ever did. The fact is, once we legalize and regulate drugs, we will not only allow police to focus on stopping violent crime instead of being distracted by arresting drug users, but we will also be able to put the resources that are saved into funding treatment and prevention programs that actually work. Who ever heard of curing a health problem with handcuffs?"

Some reformers offered a broader critique of the strategy.

"Other than an escalating war of words on marijuana, it's all pretty much the same thing as last year," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There's nothing really new here, except they are a bit more punitive this year," he added, citing the pushback on marijuana, the call for a drugged driving offensive, and a call to encourage workplace drug testing. "Last year, it was more about reform, but this year ONDCP is up to its old tricks again. Whatever window they had to turn over a new leaf is closed; Kerlikowske has been fully captured by the drug war establishment."

The Obama administration could pay a price for its intransigence on drug policy, said Piper.

"They badly underestimate the American people and the drug reform movement, especially on medical marijuana," he said. "It's not just the strategy, but the DEA refusal to reschedule and the Department of Justice memo, too. They are talking about coming out big against medical marijuana, but I think they know there is little they can do. In a sense, this is an act of desperation, a sign that we are winning. First they ignore you…"

The veteran drug reform lobbyist also professed concern about the drugged driving campaign. The strategy sets as a goal a 10% reduction in drugged driving (although it doesn’t even know how prevalent it is) and encourages states to pass zero tolerance per se DUID laws that are bound to ensnare drivers who are not impaired but may have used marijuana in preceding days or weeks.

"We are concerned about getting states to pass those laws," he said. "They are problematic because people can go to jail for what they did a week ago. We're also concerned about the push for employee drug testing."

Piper's overall assessment?

"There's not a lot of new policies there, and that's disappointing," he said. "This is a drug policy on autopilot; it's just a little more aggressive on the marijuana issue."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Aaron (not verified)

Still spending billions on a failed approach to fighting the drug war and trying to stave off the constant presence of the cartels. Billions spent trying to eradicate the source, yet somehow even more drugs make it across the border as a result? They've been trying that approach for decades and if it didn't work the first 30 years, what makes them think our tax dollars will somehow cause a sudden turnaround?

They're running scared and they know it. Maybe Americans should just stop giving the government tax money, since we're obviously not seeing a damn thing done with it that actually makes a difference. They still can't give real reasons on why it's actually illegal, nor can they prove with fair research that it would cause any more of a detrimental effect on society were it legalized. Alcohol and tobacco lobbyists as well as the pharmaceutical corporations obviously wouldn't stand for it, and the drug dealer network would effectively be neutered. We can't have any of that, can we?

What a disgrace.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 6:12am Permalink
bhonze (not verified)

No one that ignorant will get my vote; this is another way to get more money for nonsense. We know if someone is impaired or not; if they are swerving or crossing the lives pull them over and check them out. before you know it the cops will be setting up road blocks administering drug test and putting innocent people in jail all courtesy of YOU the tax payer. we need to put a stop to this BS NOW!!! Our Government is out of control and yes I say control because we the people are supposed to be in control not those Clowns that are running the White House and the senate. Let's keep voting the asses out until we get people in that want to SERVE!

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 10:43am Permalink
King Pothead (not verified)

In reply to by bhonze (not verified)

Would you rather have the GOP back in charge of the presidency and the senate?  They are the party primarily responsible for recking our country over the past 30 years and you think they are a better choice?  Or perhaps you think that whackjob Ron Paul is the answer?  Legalization of marijuana (or at least decriminalization) is a very important issue to me, but it is NOT the most important issue facing this nation.  I would certainly never vote for the right based solely on this issue because they are going to give the same result, if not worse.  And they will f*ck up everything else even worse along the way.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 4:45pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by King Pothead (not verified)

The best answer.  Gary Johnson would also be good on this issue and some others but his foreign policy would be little different from the current and past foreign policies, so I cannot support him with the zeal I have supported Ron Paul.  He is NOT a "whackjob", anyone who says (or writes) that about him has no real knowledge about him at all.  Do yourself a favor, go do some research on him by visiting some of the websites that promote his candidacy, go read some of his past essays on Texas Straight Talk, and his speeches in the HoR.  Then if you don't agree with him that's your right but you will certainly know to never call him a "whackjob" again, he is the embodiment of our Founding Fathers.

Sat, 07/16/2011 - 10:01pm Permalink
joshb (not verified)

In reply to by King Pothead (not verified)

clearly, you are the wackjob. you can't even name one bad thing about Ron Paul you moron. yes he is the answer. why don't you grow up and do some fucking research. you are talking out your ass. he used to be libertarian, he's just republican now to get more of the popular votes. you obviously no nothing about politics and are probably mentally retarted.

Sun, 07/17/2011 - 5:42pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by joshb (not verified)

I am 67 so I am very much grown up, and my IQ tests at 164.  Perhaps you should stop throwing around insults, it doesn't reflect well on you, especially when you can't spell (it's "know" not "no" and "retarded" not "retarted").  

I know a LOT about politics, I've been an activist for libertarian ideals and principles on the net since the late 80s and in print before that.  In fact, I was born libertarian and I've not changed that philosophy in any way shape or form -- my life is my own and, tho I will never violate anyone else's rights I WILL live my life as I see fit, no matter what others might say, think, or do.

I have done a LOT of research over the years on Ron Paul and others, I voted for Ron Paul when he ran under the Libertarian Party's banner, I voted for him again (in the primary, and in the general where I had to write him in as my State used the "top two" form of primary) in the last presidential election.  

It is you who know nothing about him.  I suggest you follow your own advice and actually research him, read his Texas Straight Talk essays, read the speeches he's given on the floor of the House, check out his voting record, view the interviews he's had on TV, especially those he's done on Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano.  

The man is a principled statesman who values, understands, and obeys the Constitution; who honors his oath of office (the only member of congress who does so, with the possible exception of his son, Sen. Rand Paul), and who always votes his Constitutional principles.  You couldn't ask for a more honorable presidential candidate, and if you did ask you'd never find one more honorable than Ron Paul. 

Tue, 07/19/2011 - 2:31pm Permalink
Right Reverend… (not verified)

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, "This Administration joins major medical societies in supporting increased research into marijuana's many components, delivered in a safe (non-smoked) manner, in the hopes that they can be available for physicians to legally prescribe when proven to be safe and effective." 2011 National Drug Control Strategy. Chapter 1. Facts about Marijuana. Medical Marijuana.

At the end of the day, our bodies decide what is required for physical healing, not the Queen. This fact is now recognized by the President from this announcement through the White House. This ministry is working with the Georgia Composite Medical Board to bring forward phytocannabinoid supplemental therapy through the now forming Patient Qualification Review Board to establish the clinical trails required in answer by the DEA to a Rescheduling Petition of Medical Marijuana

This ministry is a "major medical society" as ordained by the religion of the anointed Ones (Christianity) and is part of the Anglican Communion as received by the Episcopal Bishops of the One Universal Apostolic Church in ceremony at All Saints parish, Atlanta Episcopal diocese on May 22nd, 2010. And we seek interested parties that will quit bitching but will help get this accomplished in the life. We have work to do and pray for others of like mind to join here with this ministry to get 'er done. But, too many would rather do nothing or simply profit upon the misfortunes of others. The work here is absolutely brutal. The players in this movement seemingly care more about reaming sick people of their cash for bong hits than enabling the study here in Georgia that is required to fulfill all the requirements at law. "The tree of life is just medicine made from the plant," by God.

Where is the support by the movement for making the Patient Qualification Review Board a reality? The recruitment is now under way and all we need is 5 doctors of 5 different specialties to agree to attend 6 meetings a year with 1 pharmacist. An exciting new development in "hemp medicine without the high" will be made available to end this nonsense once and for all..

This ministry accomplished the work of faith in lobby effort through active petition to get the regulations written and is recognized in the doing on line no. 13 by the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

We stand upon the battlement in prayer that the faithful will attend to their duty and come to the aid of those in pain and suffering to further the work began with John the Baptist that became a reality in Jesus the Anointed with all of it!

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 2:26pm Permalink
Page S (not verified)

Anybody who even this job, no matter what administration, is too stupid to hold it.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 2:31pm Permalink
Bud (not verified)

Research shows that marijuana use in its raw form is harmful...*
* Statements like this are why nobody trusts a word you say, Gil. The extent of the ignorance evidenced in this statement is breathtaking, but given your purported position of influence, pathetic in terms of assuring public benefits.
In a just universe, statements like this will be held to be actionable as the crimes against nature, and crimes against humanity that they are. Your Idiot Policies outlaw the single most beneficent agricultural resource in the history of humankind. Look it up, though your cohort has striven mightily to erase the evidence. Hemp as food, fuel, fiber and medicine gave mankind the opportunity to reach this dizzying plateau. Yet the “harms” you allege, though they don’t constitute anything near even half the Full Picture, outweigh all that history and all the promise for the future?
Sir, it is simply preposterous, in an UnGodly way.
So, though you are purportedly a Drug Czar, it turns out you’re just this year's Frontman for the Robber Barons, keeping-the-lid-on & assuring these illegitimate powers-that-be free rein to rape & pillage.
Don’t you know this is going on your permanent record?
Don’t you realize you’re gonna have to answer to The Man?
“Well, Lord, I did manage to keep the most beneficial agricultural resource in the history of the world illegal during my Czarship.”
Uhmmm… is that your final answer?
Thu, 07/14/2011 - 4:06pm Permalink
Anonymoudrmaddogs (not verified)

Just doing his job, floating through another day, hoping to one day have a private sector job.. like some that have had his position

Some day, some one will do a historical on all the recent (last 30>< years) people  involved in the Drug War from the point of Government contact. From wages to investments pre and post job positions associations ect... most people know more about the relationships in the 1930's with Marijuana prohibition than the relationships the last 30-40 years.

Fri, 07/15/2011 - 1:55pm Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

Still ignoring the question of how likely each substance is to lead to death and serious injury, boss. Still refusing to explain what the point is of forcing people to use the far more deadly substance to get buzzed, boss. Still dissing your peace loving fellow citizens, boss. Still doing what the cartels want you to about marijuana, boss. Still letting the unregulated market sell to kids, boss. Still helping to bankrupt the country, boss. You need to get out of the face of peaceful cannabis users before you destroy more than you already have, Mr. Dictator.

Fri, 07/15/2011 - 11:38pm Permalink
Earle L. Bailey (not verified)

Funny how Gil never mentions that another result of Legalizing Drugs and ending the so-called Drug War would be ... NO MORE GIL!

Sat, 07/16/2011 - 1:25pm Permalink
1 mom (not verified)

I've moved a LOT...and the quickest. surest way to get some new connects (for "street pharmaceuticals") anywhere in this country is to ask the KIDS in any given neighborhood in any given city. The idea that keeping pot illegal saves our kids is BS. Can someone stop to think how much time extra time children could spend with their parents were pot legal. The kids wouldn't be hiding their stuff in one place and the parents hiding theirs in another.

Tue, 07/19/2011 - 6:24am Permalink

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