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The 2012 Federal Drug Budget: More of the Same [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #671)

The Obama administration released its a href="">proposed 2012 National Drug Control Budget Monday and, despite President Obama's statement just over two weeks ago that the federal government needed to "shift resources" to have a smarter, more effective federal drug policy emphasizing public health approaches, there is little sign of any resource shifting.

Drug War Autopilot and Co-Autopilot: ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
Although budget documents said the administration seeks "a balanced approach" of prevention, treatment, and domestic and international law enforcement, law enforcement continues to get the lion's share of federal drug dollars. Of the more than $26 billion allocated for federal drug control efforts, nearly 60% would go to "supply reduction" (read: domestic and international drug law enforcement and military interdiction) and only 40% would go to treatment and prevention.

And in a time when the clamor for deficit reductions and budget cuts grows louder by the day, the Obama administration drug budget actually increases by 1.3% over 2010. That means it could be in for a rough ride when congressional appropriations committees get their hands on it, although no Republican leaders have yet commented on it.

[Editor's Note: All year-to-year comparisons are to Fiscal Year 2010 because Congress still hasn't passed a FY 2011 budget.]

On the other hand, at least the administration is being honest. Since 2004, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), which produces the drug budget, under drug czar John Walters had used accounting legerdemain to substantially understate the real costs of federal drug control by not including the drug component in the work of a number of different federal agencies. Using the understated figures, this year's drug budget would have appeared to have been only $15.3 billion instead of the more accurate $26.2 billion, with a false appearance of equality between supply-side and demand-side funding.

[Editor's Note: Bush-era drug czar John Walters stated directly, in response to a question I asked at an event, that they omitted budget items that included drug control but were not 100% about drug control -- claiming that made the numbers "more accurate," but not explaining how that made sense in any way. -DB]

"At least they finally got around to fixing the accounting problem," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance."It took them five years after Congress told them to fix it, but at least they are showing the true cost of things, like incarceration."

But neither Piper nor representatives of other drug reform groups had much else nice to say about the budget. "It's very much like last year's budget, with most money going to ineffective supply side programs and not enough going to treatment," Piper said. "You have the president and the drug czar talking about treating drug abuse as a public health issue just weeks ago, but their budget continues to treat it as a law enforcement and military issue."

"I don't understand how the president can tell us with a straight face that he wants to treat drugs as a health issue but then turn around just a few weeks later and put out a budget that continues to emphasize punishment and interdiction," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a former narcotics officer in Baltimore. "The president needs to put his money where his mouth is. Right now it looks like he's simply all talk and no game."

"I see this similarly to Obama's approach on needle exchange and crack sentencing -- the president supported those reforms verbally, but did nothing else to help them at first, even when he had the opportunity," said David Borden, executive director of, publisher of this newsletter. "But when Congress was ready to take them on, the administration provided enough support to get them through. Obama has also supported the idea of shifting the drug budget's priorities, but again has done nothing whatsoever to make it happen. Maybe what he wants is for Congress to do the heavy lifting on this as well. If so, our movement's task is to propose a politically viable new version of the budget that does change the priorities, to build support for it in Congress, and then look for the administration to get on board."

"We're definitely going to be focused on cutting funding to the drug war during the congressional appropriations process," said Piper. "We're already meeting with both Republicans and Democrats to increase support for cutting funding to the Byrne grants, the media campaign, and other ineffective drug war programs. I don't think there are any sacred cows now, and our goal is to get the drug war on the chopping block along with everything else."

While there are individual programs that saw cuts in both the treatment and prevention side and the law enforcement side, only in the realm of international anti-drug assistance was there an overall decrease in spending. Although the budget funds foreign assistance at $2.1 billion, that is $457 million less than the 2010 budget, a decrease of 17%. The decrease results from the winding down of Plan Colombia funding, a shift from expensive technologies for Mexico to more programmatic aid, and the re-jiggering of some of the Afghanistan anti-drug spending to be counted as "rule of law" spending.

Proposed spending on interdiction is set at $3.9 billion, an increase of $243 million over 2010 levels. The departments of Defense and Homeland Security account for the bulk of that spending, which includes an increase of $210 million for border security and port of entry facilitation on the US-Mexico border.

But international anti-drug aid and interdiction spending are dwarfed by domestic drug law enforcement, which would gobble up $9.5 billion under the Obama drug budget, an increase of $315 million over 2010 levels, or 3.4%. Unsurprisingly, the single largest domestic law enforcement expenditure is $3.46 billion to incarcerate federal drug war prisoners.

[Editor's Note: In the budget, the authors refer to high federal corrections costs because of the high number of drug war prisoners -- they make up well over half the more than 200,000 federal prisoners -- as "a consequence of drug abuse," when those costs are more than anything a consequence of public policy decisions made over decades.]

The Office of Justice Grants program, which includes the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants used to fund anti-drug multi-jurisdiction law enforcement task forces, would be slashed substantially, from $3.52 billion in 2010 to $2.96 billion in 2012, but on the other hand, the Justice Department 2012 budget contains $600 million to hire and retain 4,500 new police officers.

"It's encouraging that they cut funding for the Byrne grants," said Piper, "but they're increasing funding for the COPS program. The money is still going to law enforcement, but cutting those grants is a step in the right direction."

There are a few law enforcement side losers in addition to the Byrne grants. The DEA budget is down slightly, from $2.05 billion in 2010 to $2.01 billion in 2012, but that reflects supplemental spending for the southwest border that was included in 2010. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which has evolved into a prime example of pork, saw its funding slashed to $200 million, down from $239 million.

And while overall treatment and prevention funding was up slightly, by 1% and 8% respectively, those increases are relatively slight, and there are some losers there, too. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Prevention grant program would decline from $565 million in 2010 to $550 million in 2012, Drug Free Communities funding would decline from $95 million to $89 million, and substance abuse treatment Medicaid grants to the states would decline from $3.78 billion to $3.57 billion.

On the plus side, spending for the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students grant program would increase from $177 million to $267 million, Medicare treatment spending would increase by about 10% to $1.463 billion, Substance Abuse Treatment Block Grant funding would increase fractionally, and reentry funding under the Second Chance Act would increase from $30 million to $50 million.

The much criticized ONDCP youth media campaign would remain at $45 million, and the mostly praised drug court program would also remain unchanged, at $57 million.

All in all, despite slight changes in emphasis, the 2012 federal drug control budget is much of a muchness with previous drug budgets, despite the Obama administration's lip service about changing priorities and embracing the public health paradigm.

"Everyone wants to cut federal spending somehow," said Piper. "It seems that cutting the drug war would be an easy way to do that without cutting funds to the poor, to education, and other desirable social programs. Obama has said how sad he was to have to cut programs he likes, but he probably could have saved those programs by cutting funding for the drug war."

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.


King Pothead (not verified)

About the only time I would ever agree with that crackpot Joe Wilson (R-SC), but he was right about Obama being a liar.  If he's not lying about everything under the sun ("change you can believe in?" Ha!), he is proving himself to be the most nutless president in recent history.  We can do better than this piece of garbage people.  I voted for this turd once, but cannot in good conscience do it again.  So, barring the miracle of a progressive challenger entering and winning the primary, I will be wasting my vote on the Green Party candidate.  I hope you will do the same, even if it means the other republican wins in '12.

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 12:38pm Permalink
Jordan Angelle (not verified)

Please, stop this useless spending on the DEA and other agencies to stop the use of drugs. I know it seems outlandish for me to even send a letter saying this, but there has to be other ways to deal with this. Some states are considering taxing and legalizing the drug Marijuana. If the federal government started this and ended the prohibition of it, you could save millions, maybe even billions, on the budget towards the DEA, tax money that is used the pay agents and programs trying to enforce the useless law. You would be able to release criminals who have been charged with marijuana charges and no threatening crimes, that alone would save millions on tax payers. It's very obvious how much control the liquor and cigarette companies have in Washington, so why don't you prove everyone wrong and stop working for the corporations and start working the people.

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 12:52pm Permalink
JC Gates (not verified)

When will Obama start doing as he promised? He has done nothing in my eye's but make more criminals that aren't really criminals! Vote for me JC (JohnCurtis D. Gates) for President. Find me on Facebook and follow me. This is a country that is for the people by the people, not it is my opinion and that is final BS! I will put everything to vote for people and make it so that everyone has the chance to vote. It is about time we give the country back to who it belongs to, "The People"!!

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 4:26pm Permalink
Chuck Ward (not verified)

Come on, people. The ONDCP should at least have to fly coach like most of us. Likewise the DEA -- give them all Toyota Corollas, take away their big ugly SUVs and see how tough they look then. What a waste of resources!

Fri, 02/18/2011 - 11:46am Permalink
Jo Anne (not verified)

Doesn't the "government" (and I use that term loosly) using the term "Czar" seem just a little bit Orwellian/1984/CREEPY to anyone but me????

Wed, 02/23/2011 - 6:44pm Permalink
jpoker27 (not verified)

I know I'm a small minority of people who have this opinion, but I think the entire idea of legalizing marijuana for instance is just such a stupid idea. 


 The argument always is "Alcohol is legal and it's much worse than pot"  OK, lets say that is an accurate statement, so the argument is "Since this substance is legal, harmful, has no beneficial or medical use, and as a result ends up costing Billions of dollars every year due to the harm it causes, We should legalize another substance which, again, has no beneficial use, and is harmful, BUT, lesss harmful. 



It just doesn't make sense at least to me. It isn't that I don't understand the anti-drug war opinion, make it legal and collect tax on it,


But tobacco and alcohol are the perfect examples why the money that could be collected in taxes would not come close to the money it costs each year due to the problems caused by these substances. 



I would be totally for legalizing ANY drug if their was an actual reason other than "People are going to anyway" People are always going to break laws, the answer can't be eliminate the law. 


 Everyone knows and understands that selling marijuana is illegal, then when the put people in prison for selling marijuana, which everyone knows is against the law, everyone gets mad.  Instead of accusing the gov't of being "Liars, criminials, ect" how about just understand what is allowed and what isn't allowed,  But of course I wouldn't discourage anyone from expressing their ideas, but sometimes people I think do so inappropriately.



No one ever gives a good reason to legalize it, "It's bad and has no proven benefits, but its less bad than these" to me isn't a real good argument. 


Sorry for the length, and if anyone disagrees with me, I am always open to someone else's point of view, and since i feel like I am the small percent of people with this opinion, maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way, OK SEEYAAA

Wed, 10/19/2011 - 10:20pm Permalink
ANONYMOUS- (not verified)

In reply to by jpoker27 (not verified)

How about these as good reasons, but I would suggest you take my thoughts and research and do your own so you will actually believe what I have to say.

1) Not an actual reason directly, but an interesting fact to keep in mind during your research: Alcohol is the only "drug" (illegal or not) including all the illegal substances that has been scientifically shown to actually increase violence in the user.  Other violent aspects related to drug users are actually caused by the laws governing prohibition.

2) Prohibition creates a black market with no ability for the key players to engage in non-violent conflict resolution.  So a lot of the drug violence that you see in the news papers would actually go down if the government legalized or decriminalized (look up the difference) drug(s) and regulated its growth so that only approved people could grow for the majority of users.  This would one, drop the price and increase the quality for the user (illegal drugs can be harmful because they're laced with other drugs and regulating and testing the supply would allow for "healthier" marijuana).  By dropping the price, other drug lords wouldn't have as much financial incentive to be in the black market.  Essentially by legalizing marijuana you can control the marijuana available to the people (which will always be available to people, but it may not be to government standards).  

3) By not legalizing it, we keep having increase enforcement (think police/DEA) of drug laws.  That means increased spending of your tax dollars on bigger and bigger prison systems.  There is actually a very well researched positive link between increasing enforcement and increasing violent crimes.  A good thing to research was the rise in homicides during the US (alcoholic) Prohibition in the 1930's and their instant decrease after Prohibition was repealed.  All the results of Prohibition are applicable to marijuana.  

4) Legalizing/decriminalizing drugs (not just marijuana) will slow down the creation and consumption of newer more potent and more dangerous drugs.  Again, look to alcohol: The US stopped drinking lighter alcoholic drinks and for the first time began drinking A LOT more concentrated alcoholic drinks (think: whiskey, bourbon, scotch) because the more potent it was, the less the alcohol dealers had to transport and the easier it was to do this.  To make things stronger, alcohol was often laced with other chemicals and created a lot more health hazards than alcohol that is consumed today.


There are a lot more reasons, but I need to get back to my research of this very topic.  I would encourage you to really understand the political and historical reasons why prohibition of drugs and marijuana in particular are in place today.  

A good place to start:  Google scholar...and:


Effect of drug law enforcement on drug market violence: A systematic review

Dan Werba,b, Greg Rowellc, Gordon Guyattd, Thomas Kerra, Julio Montanera,e, Evan Wooda,e,


Oh and try to find transcripts of President Nixon in 1971 around May-June about his conversations regarding marijuana legalization and his committee that found that legalization would be better than a "war on drugs" (Nixon's own term) and he didn't want that.  Suffice it to say all he had were racial and moral remarks against it and not an ounce of data.

Thu, 03/08/2012 - 5:02pm Permalink
Thomas Payton (not verified)

In reply to by jpoker27 (not verified)

The fact is: There is no good or real argument for  for Marijuana to be made illegal. There is and was no reason when it was made illegal in 1937. The language alone should be grounds for the law to be thrown out. It was testimony to and all white male congress/senate "that black and Mexican used the Marijuana to get white women. The hype and yellow journalism that scared people into a knee jerk reaction was all lies.

It is considered a victimless crime. There is no victim!!! No one was hurt or property destroyed. So why are we cannibalizing our own citizens? Lawyer, judges, and members of law enforcement are eating, buying houses, sending their kids to school and collage at the misery of less fortunate of our society when there was NO CRIME COMMITTED. There is no justification for that.

A 51% consensus does not have a right to tell 49% how to live as long as no one is hurting anyone or destroying an others property.

The Marijuana tax act of 1937 was a coup for special interest. Oil and DuPont Chemical. The policies of our government is why we are still dependent on OIL. Oil and the special interest have the lobbyist to keep status quo.

In 1935 DuPont patented a knew product called nylon. DuPont tried to get the contract to supply ropes and rigging to the US NAVY. The farm lobby at the time was large and powerful. So through a series of lies and bribes they got the marijuana tax act passed. The Hemp industry was wiped out. Farms and lively hood were lost and that consolidated the money in fewer hands. The law taxed the farmer out of business of producing renewable energy and gave large tax cuts to Petro chemical and oil businesses.

Sun, 02/24/2013 - 4:13pm Permalink

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