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Meet Obama's Proposed 2013 Federal Drug Budget [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #721)

The Obama administration this week released its Fiscal Year 2013 National Drug Control Budget, and it wants to spend nearly $26 billion on federal anti-drug programs. Despite all the talk about the staggering federal debt problem and current budget deficits, the administration found nothing to cut here. Instead, the proposed budget increases federal anti-drug funding by 1.6% over fiscal year 2012.

Drug War Autopilot and Co-Autopilot: ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
The proposed budget is remarkable for how closely it hews to previous years, especially in regard to the allocation of resources for demand reduction (treatment and prevention) versus those for supply reduction (domestic and international law enforcement and interdiction). The roughly 40:60 ratio that has been in place for years has shifted, but only incrementally. The 2013 budget allocates 41.2% for treatment and prevention and 58.2% for law enforcement.

"This is very much the same drug budget we've been seeing for years," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The Obama drug budget is the Bush drug budget, which was the Clinton drug budget. Little has changed."

"It's really just more of the same," said Sean Dunagan, a former DEA intelligence analyst whose last assignment in northeastern Mexico between 2008 and 2010, a when prohibition-related violence there was soaring, helped change his perspective. Dunagan quit the DEA and is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

"There are very minor adjustments in how the drug spending is allocated and bit more money for treatment, but there's a significant increase in interdiction, as well as a $61 million increase for domestic law enforcement," Dunagan noted. "They're trying to argue that they're abandoning the drug war and shifting the focus, but the numbers don't really back that up."

The proposed budget also demonstrates the breadth of the federal drug spending largesse among the bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington. Departments that catch a ride on the drug war gravy train include Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans' Affairs, as well as the federal judiciary, District of Columbia courts, the Small Business Administration, and, of course, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

"It's just the same old programs being funded through the same old stove-pipes," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "In a way, it's ironic. When Congress passed the legislation creating the drug czar's office in 1988, the idea was for the drug czar to look at all the federal anti-drug spending and come in and say he was going to take the funds from one program and shift them to a more effective program. I think many in Congress hoped he would shift resources from law enforcement to treatment and prevention because there was evidence that those sorts of programs were more effective and a better use of resources. That didn't happen," he said.

"The people who run the bureaucratic fiefdoms at Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State and Treasury have outmuscled the drug czar, and now the drug czar's budget announcements are reduced to public relations and spin," Sterling continued. "They take some $15 or $20 million program and bullet-point it as significant, but that's almost nothing when it comes to federal drug dollars."

The Justice Department alone would get $7.85 billion, up almost $400 million from FY 2012, with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the DEA among those Justice components seeing funding increases. BOP spending would increase by about 8%, while the DEA budget would increase from $2.35 billion to $2.38 billion. On the other hand, the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which lost its congressional patron with the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), has been zeroed out.

"The hundreds of millions of dollar increases in funding requested for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is particularly outrageous," said Sterling. "There are too many people doing too much time they don't need to be doing. Obama has the power to save hundreds of millions of dollars by commuting excessively long sentences. He could reduce the deficit and increase the amount of justice in America.

"He could tell the BOP he was ordering a cap on the federal prison population that now has a sentenced population of 198,000, Sterling continued, on a roll. "He could order them that whenever a new prisoner arrives, they have to send him the names of prisoners who may have served enough time for their crimes for him to consider for immediate release from prison. He could ask all the federal judges to send him the names of people they have sentenced to longer terms than they think are just. If he had the heart to reach out to those prisoners who are serving decades for minor roles and their suffering families, if he had the brains to put in place the means to achieve those cost-serving measures, and if he had the guts to actually use the constitutional power he has to do it, that would be great."

"That increase in incarceration spending really jumps out at me, too" said Dunagan. "To make their claim that they're not going to be locking up small-time dealers and users is pretty disingenuous."

Pentagon spending on interdiction and other anti-drug activities would decline somewhat, with the budget proposing $1.725 billion for 2013, a decline of $200 million from the 2012 budget. But interdiction spending goes up elsewhere, as Dunagan noted.

And State Department drug spending would take a hit. Spending would decline by just more than $100 million to $687 million, but most of that decrease would come from reduced funding for alternative development assistance, while State's other drug-related program, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), would see only a $6 million decrease.

While funding for prevention and treatment would increase by 4.6% under the proposed budget, some treatment and grant programs are seeing cuts, while criminal justice system-based approaches are getting more money.

"I'm concerned that the budget seems to be emphasizing drug courts and criminal justice-based drug treatment," said Piper. "They're cutting SAMHSA, which funds a lot of treatment, but increasing spending for prison-based treatment."

The $364 million earmarked for SAMHSA's treatment programs is a $61 million reduction from FY 2012, while drug courts saw a $17 million increase to $52 million and BOP drug treatment programs saw a $16 million increase to $109 million.

The new drug budget also resurrects the drug czar's widely criticized National Youth Media Campaign, dropped last year when Congress failed to fund it.

"I'm also disappointed that they put back in funding for the drug czar's failed youth media campaign, which Congress eliminated last year," said Piper. "It's only $20 million, and you can hardly do a national media campaign with that, but still."

This is only the administration's budget proposal, of course, and Congress will have plenty of opportunities to try to cut (or increase) portions of it. Still, the proposed budget is a window on the thinking of administration that has talked the talk about how we are no longer in a war on drugs, but has taken only stumblingly tiny steps toward walking the walk. And drug reformers aren't liking what they're seeing.

"LEAP thinks this is misguided," said Dunagan. "The only thing that's different is the rhetoric used to spin it, and even that is a sort of tacit acknowledgment by the administration that people don't really like the drug war, but substantively, there's very little different from the past."

"Between the drug budgets and his war on medical marijuana, we're very disappointed in Obama," said DPA's Piper.

"We should be disappointed in the Obama administration," said Sterling. "There was supposed to be change. This was the University of Chicago law professor, the Harvard-trained lawyer, who was going to bring in his own people and make real change. I'm very disappointed in his drug policies and criminal justice policies. My disappointment with his policy failures don't have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited.

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.


Steve Newcomb (not verified)

I am among Eric Sterling's most fervent admirers, but I don't agree with him when he says, "...[Obama's] policy failures don't have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited."  Everything is connected, and the military-industrial complex is more responsible for our economic and geostrategic messes than anything else.  I don't think the Drug War can be ended without loosening the military-industrial complex's stranglehold on the American economy, and on life in these United States.  First we must perceive our situation as enslavement to a vast imperial machine, and then we must gather the courage to end that enslavement.  I'd be happy to be surprised by an early end to the drug war, but I'm not holding my breath.

I do not like Ron Paul, and there's very little I agree with him about, but I sadly expect to be voting for him.  He's the only candidate who speaks to the central problem.  The central problem is not the drug war; the drug war is only a symptom.  The central problem is that the rule of law has been superseded by the imperatives of empire.  The Drug War is at least partly an artifact of the military-industrial complex's stranglehold on the economy of the United States.  The military-industrial complex owned the Clintons, it owned Bush/Cheney, and it is impossible to ignore the fact that it owns the Obama administration, too.  President Eisenhower, who knew exactly what he was talking about, warned us very clearly, but money has been speaking louder than Ike for more than 50 years.  Where we are now is exactly where Ike feared we would be -- in a place where liberty is less important than profit.

Thu, 02/16/2012 - 1:08pm Permalink
Dr. Greg Scott (not verified)

Did those of us who seek radical drug policy reform (or revolution) really, honestly expect that this terribly inexperienced, clout-less, spineless presidential candidate would enact measurable change once in the Oval Office?  Did we think that he would be THE ONE who finally would change the country's approach to drug policy, making it more humane, reasonable, rational, and EVIDENCE-based?  Seriously, the new kid on the block who's constantly buffeted on all sides by Tea Partiers, Republicans of every stripe, and even members of his own party?  It's amazing that little Obama can manage to pick out his own clothes for the day.  Seems like Congressional veto would dictate every sartorial choice, right down to socks and cufflinks.  

Obama is no better than Bush or Clinton on the drug policy front.  Same old, same old.  What we need is an insurgency, an overthrow of the existing government's drug war apparatus.  This isn't a war on drugs; it's a war on drug USERS.  Drug dependence and addiction -- what our elected leaders seem to despise (and likely fear) the most -- are MEDICAL issues, not criminal matters.  But remember, Obama isn't a doctor; he's not a scientist or a researcher; he's not even a policy maker.  He's a POLITICIAN.  A sane, humane drug policy would divest enforcement almost entirely (after all, we already have lawyers, guns, and money devoted to the curbing of violent crime, whether it's drug related or not) and route it to prevention, treatment, and the well-documented PROVEN gaggle of interventions under the HARM REDUCTION rubric.

"Life's all about your expectations," my father always said.  Well, from Obama I expect NOTHING but the same tired old paramilitary approach to the disease of addiction.  From the public, the voters and taxpayers, I expect more.  I expect anger, action, and some day, revolt.   Then again, I won't hold my breath, for we live in a country whose citizens fear their government, which is ironic given that our "founding fathers" intentionally created a government that would fear its citizenry, a balance of power they viewed as appropriate ... I think they were right.  When did we become so afraid?

Thu, 02/16/2012 - 1:31pm Permalink
Carmen Brown (not verified)

At least the reformers are seeing things clearly. It would be really bad if Obama could dupe us too.
Thu, 02/16/2012 - 3:42pm Permalink
Matthew Meyer (not verified)

Very nice article, I learned some things about how the drug money is split up in the federal government. Please correct "SAMSHA" to "SAMHSA" (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
Thu, 02/16/2012 - 5:11pm Permalink
A non-violent … (not verified)

Ok so let me get this straight. In 1937 there was an estimated 13,000 pot smokers and while today the estimate is 15 million pot smokers? A 100,000% increase in usage from the day prohibition started to today? That would make prohibition the sole reason why so many people smoke marijuana. If you truly know our human nature then the obvious answer is, end prohibition and the draw to marijuana decreases back down to about a million people in 15-20 years or less.  It really is only a matter of time during this age of information of internet knowledge and wisdom when people begin to figure out the travesty of prohibition and if that day comes in 2012 sometime then perhaps the Mayans were right about a new age of enlightenment. 

Fri, 02/17/2012 - 4:59pm Permalink
citizen comment (not verified)

The problem with the anti-drug war lobby, in my opinion, is that its focus has shifted from advocating in favor of the right to do what you want to with your own body so long as you don't hurt someone else, to a more or less one issue approach that focuses just on marijuana prohibition.  Under that rationale, the whole debate usually devolves into the pros and cons of marijuana, potential health risks v. benefits, etc. with both sides presenting studies to bolster their respective claims.  Yet, the underlying issue is whether drug use per se should be punished by law, regardless of the manner in which the drugs are used.  In other words, there is no distinction made between responsible use and irresponsible use and even anti-drug war groups have brushed aside this fundamental question in favor of endless debates about the wonders of marijuana and its relative harmlessness in comparison with other substances (a point which is conceded by even many drug warrior types).

In the broadest terms, however, making such a distinction between irresponsible versus responsible use is of great importance, because the underlying rationale of the drug war is that there is no such thing as responsible drug use.  Drug warriors then point to the highly publicized cases of 'ruined lives' to bolster their fundamental assertion that all drug use is irresponsible (even though many of the 'ruined lives' which they hold up as evidence are ruined by becoming entangled in the justice system rather than by drug use itself). 

In my opinion, the focus of drug reform groups should be on the distinction between responsible and irresponsible use.  Only irresponsible use should be punished (just as is the case with drunk driving as opposed to being punished for drinking, itself).  If our laws were brought into line with such a rationale, they would be much more fair and clear in their application and would still leave room to punish folks for criminal acts that result from using drugs in an irresponsible manner (ie, injuring someone while driving under the influence).  The current approach underlying prohibitionist regulations is based on cultural bias rather than on any real evidence that it is inherently impossible to use drugs in a responsible manner.

Sat, 02/25/2012 - 1:46am Permalink
tempname_57563 (not verified)

It's not the time to continue more wastesful drug war, so it's time to rethink war priority which is high debts which may bankrupt the country like Greece & stealing our taxpayers money for future generation. Remember prohibition, it doesn't work, but regulation will work. We need to reverse drug war into debate of marijuana reform policy, so it's best to legalize marijuana for adults, medical patients, & health-industrial hemp uses.It'll revive economy for sure, but what's stopping them, maybe fear of unknown, so get informed to make better decision for all 50 states to have safe access. It's time to deschedule marijuana classification so medical dispensaries can safely operate. Stop the unholy raids that's too violence on peaceful users. It's proven that it's safer choice than legal alcohol &/or tobacco, so end drug discrimination. There's more important issue than mere marijuana, is the ever rising gas price that's worth the war on gas now.



Sat, 02/25/2012 - 12:08pm Permalink
citizen comment (not verified)

In reply to by tempname_57563 (not verified)

I disagree.  The focus should not just be about marijuana.  Indeed, many of the pro-marijuana folks are beginning to sound like the prohibitionists on the other side by arguing that their particular drug of choice is superior to all others and that other drugs like alcohol and tobacco should be banned and only pot should be legalized. This is the same argument that prohibitionist types have used to argue that alcohol is okay while other drugs are inherently evil. It's ironic that some marijuana advocates are taking more or less the same position as drug prohibitionists.

The real focus should not be on the comparative safety of particular drugs, but on the right of adults to use any drugs, so long as they are using them in a responsible manner without posing a danger to others.  Folks who argue that certain drugs (LSD, cocaine, heroin, or whatever) are inherently so dangerous that they must be banned are really prohibitionists at heart.

The second issue is whether an adult has the right to alter his or her state of consciousness.  The drug warriors argue that such behavior is inherently irresponsible, but provide no evidence that altering one's state of consciousness through drugs is inherently an irresponsible activity.  This is why some of them accept marijuana as a "medicine," but see it as an evil thing that people should use the drug recreationally to relax.  Once again, many of the pro-marijuana folks have fallen for the trap of arguing that marijuana is inherently safe and therefore can be used effectively as a medicine.  Eventually, marijuana will probably be fully accepted as a medicine, but recreational use will still be prohibited, because our culture rejects the notion that it is acceptable to use substances in a recreational manner.

Sat, 02/25/2012 - 2:47pm Permalink
Paul Pot (not verified)

Is it really possible to spend so much money committing crimes against humanity. 

These people have no idea they are ensuring life sentences for themselves. 
All wars end, regimes topple and the criminals get fair trials and long sentences. 
Are you a collaborator? 
Save yourself. 
Switch sides before the drug war ends and you get dragged into the street by the hair and put on trial.
Occupy the drug war.
Mon, 02/27/2012 - 12:58am Permalink

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