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Feature: Obama's First National Drug Strategy -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A leaked draft of the overdue 2010 National Drug Strategy was published by Newsweek over the weekend, and it reveals some positive shifts away from Bush-era drug policy paradigms and toward more progressive and pragmatic approaches. But there is a lot of continuity as well, and despite the Obama administration's rhetorical shift away from the "war on drugs," the drug war juggernaut is still rolling along.

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sign of the leaker?
That doesn't quite jibe with Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) director Gil Kerlikowske's words when he announced in April 2009 that the phrase "war on drugs" was no longer in favor. "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them. We're not at war with people in this country."

The leak was reported by long-time Washington insider and Newsweek columnist Michael Isikoff, who mentioned it almost off-handedly in a piece asserting "The White House Drug Czar's Diminished Status." Isikoff asserted in the piece that the unveiling of the strategy had been delayed because Kerlikowske didn't have the clout to get President Obama to schedule a joint appearance to release it. His office had been downgraded from cabinet level, Isikoff noted.

That sparked an angry retort from UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, a burr under the saddle to prohibitionists and anti-prohibitionists alike for his heterodox views on drug policy. In a blog post, Kleiman seemed personally offended at the leak, twice referring to the leaker as "a jerk," defending the new drug strategy as innovative if bound by interagency politics, and deriding Isikoff's article as "gossipy."

Kleiman also suggested strongly that the leaker was none other than former John Walters on the basis of an editing mark on the document that had his name on it. But Walters has not confirmed that, and others have point out it could have been a current staffer who is using the same computer Walters used while in office.

On the plus side, the draft strategy embraces some harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and the use of naloxone to prevent overdoses, although without ever uttering the words "harm reduction." There is also a renewed emphasis on prevention and treatment, with slight spending increases. But again reality fails to live up to rhetoric, with overall federal drug control spending maintaining the long-lived 2:1 ration in spending for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction versus that for treatment and prevention.

The strategy also promotes alternatives to incarceration, such drug courts, community courts and the like and for the first time hints that it recognizes the harms that can be caused by the punitive approach to drug policy. And it explicitly calls for reform of the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

It sets a number of measurable goals related to reducing drug use. By 2015, ONDCP vows to cut last month drug use by young adults by 10% and cut last month use by teens, lifetime use by 8th graders, and the number of chronic drug users by 15%.

The 2010 goals of a 15% reduction reflect diminishing expectations after years of more ambitious drug use reduction goals followed by the drug policy establishment's inability to achieve them. That could inoculate the Obama administration from the kind of criticism faced by the Clinton administration back in the 1990s when it did set much more ambitious goals.

The Clinton administration's 1998 National Drug Control Strategy called for a "ten-year conceptual framework to reduce drug use and drug availability by 50%." That didn't happen. That strategy put the number of drug users at 13.5 million, but instead of decreasing, according to the 2008 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, by 2007 the number of drug users was at 20.1 million.

While Clinton took criticism from Republicans that his goals were not ambitious enough -- Newt Gingrich said we should just wipe out drugs -- the Bush administration set similar goals, and achieved similarly modest results. The Bush administration's 2002 National Drug Control Strategy sought a 25% reduction in drug use by both teenagers and adults within five years. While teen drug use declined from 11.6% in 2002 to 9.3% in 2007, then drug czar Walters missed his goal. He did less well with adult use almost unchanged, at 6.3% in 2000 and 5.9% in 2007.

The draft strategy, however, remains wedded to law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction, calls for strong federal support for local drug task forces, and explicitly rejects marijuana legalization. It also seeks to make drugged driving a top priority, which would be especially problematic if the administration adopts per se zero tolerance measures (meaning the presence of any metabolites of a controlled substance could result in a driver's arrest whether he was actually impaired or not).

Still, while the draft strategy is definitely a mixed bag, a pair of keen observers of ONDCP and federal drug policy pronounced themselves fairly pleased overall. While still heavy on the law enforcement side, the first Obama national drug strategy is a far cry from the propaganda-driven documents of Bush era drug czar John Walters.

The Good

"This is somewhat of a surprise, because for the first time they have included reducing the funds associated with the drug war in their strategy, although not in a big way, they're calling for reform of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and they are calling for the reform of laws that penalize people," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is the first time they've included anything recognizing that some of our policies are creating harm," he added.

"The stuff about syringe exchange and naloxone for overdose prevention is pretty good. It's the first time they've embraced any part of harm reduction, even though they don't use that name," Piper noted.

"I'm also impressed with the section on alternatives to incarceration," said Piper. "They basically said most drug users don't belong in jail, and a lot of dealers don't, either. It's still wedded to the criminal justice system, but it's good that they looked at so many different things -- drug courts, community courts, Operation Highpoint (warning dealers to desist instead of just arresting them as a means of breaking up open-air drug markets), programs for veterans. They seem interested in finding out what works, which is an evidence-based approach that had been lacking in previous strategies."

The Status Quo

"Drug war reformers have eagerly been waiting the release of President Obama's first National Drug Control Strategy," noted Matthew Robinson, professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University and coauthor (with Renee Scherlen) of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the ONDCP." "Would it put Obama's and Kerlikowske's words into action, or would it be more of the same in terms of federal drug control policy? The answer is yes. And no. There is real, meaningful, exciting change proposed in the 2010 Strategy. But there's a lot of the status quo, too," he said.

"The first sentence of the Strategy hints at status quo approaches to federal drug control policy; it announces 'a blueprint for reducing illicit drug use and its harmful consequences in America,'" Robinson said. "That ONDCP will still focus on drug use (as opposed to abuse) is unfortunate, for the fact remains that most drug use is normal, recreational, pro-social, and even beneficial to users; it does not usually lead to bad outcomes for users, including abuse or addiction," he said.

"Just like under the leadership of Director John Walters, Kerlikowske's ONDCP characterizes its drug control approaches as 'balanced,' yet FY 2011 federal drug control spending is still imbalanced in favor of supply side measures (64%), while the demand side measures of treatment and prevention will only receive 36% of the budget," Robinson pointed out. "In FY 2010, the percentages were 65% and 35%, respectively. Perhaps when Barack Obama said 'Change we can believe in,' what he really meant was 'Change you can believe in, one percentage point at a time.'"

There is also much of the status quo in funding levels, Robinson said. "There will also be plenty of drug war funding left in this 'non-war on drugs.' For example, FY 2011 federal drug control spending includes $3.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (which includes Customs and Border Protection spending), more than $3.4 billion for the Department of Justice (which includes Drug Enforcement Agency spending), and nearly $1.6 billion for the Department of Defense (which includes military spending). Thus, the drug war will continue on under President Obama even if White House officials do not refer to federal drug control policy as a 'war on drugs,'" he noted.

The Bad

"ONDCP repeatedly stresses the importance of reducing supply of drugs into the United States through crop eradication and interdiction efforts, international collaboration, disruption of drug smuggling organizations, and so forth," Robinson noted. "It still promotes efforts like Plan Colombia, the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, and many other similar programs aimed at eradicating drugs in foreign countries and preventing them from entering the United States. The bottom line here is that the 'non war on drugs' will still look and feel like a war on drugs under President Obama, especially to citizens of the foreign nations where the United States does the bulk of its drug war fighting."

"They are still wedded to interdiction and eradication," said Piper. "There is no recognition that they aren't very effective and do more harm than good. Coming only a couple of weeks after the drug czar testified under oath that eradication in Colombia and Afghanistan and elsewhere had no impact on the availability of drugs in the US, to then put out a strategy embracing what he said was least effective is quite disturbing."

"The ringing endorsement of per se standards for drugged driving is potentially troubling," said Piper. "It looks a lot like zero tolerance. We have to look at this also in the context of new performance measures, which are missing from the draft. In the introduction, they talk about setting goals for reducing drug use and that they went to set other performance measures, such as for reducing drug overdoses and drugged driving. If they actually say they're going to reduce drugged driving by such and such an amount with a certain number of years, that will be more important. We'll have to see what makes it into the final draft."

"They took a gratuitous shot at marijuana reform," Piper noted. "It was unfortunate they felt the need to bash something that half of Americans support and to do it in the way they did, listing a litany of Reefer Madness allegations and connecting marijuana to virtually every problem in America. That was really unfortunate."

More Good

There are some changes in spending priorities. "Spending on prevention will grow 13.4% from FY 2010 to FY 2011, while spending on treatment will grow 3.7%," Robinson noted. "The growth in treatment is surprisingly small given that ONDCP notes that 90% of people who need treatment do not receive it. Increases are much smaller for spending on interdiction (an increase of 2.4%), domestic law enforcement (an increase of 1.9%), and international spending (an increase of 0.9%). This is evidence of a shift in federal drug control strategy under President Obama; there will be a greater effort to prevent drug use in the first place as well as treat those that become addicted to drugs than there ever was under President Bush."

Robinson also lauded the Obama administration for more clarity in the strategy than was evident under either Clinton or Bush. "Obama's first Strategy clearly states its guiding principles, each of which is followed by a specific set of actions to be initiated and implemented over time to achieve goals and objectives related to its principles. Of course, this is Obama's first Strategy, so in subsequent years, there will be more data presented for evaluation purposes, and it should become easier to decipher the ideology that will drive the 'non war on drugs' under President Obama," he said.

But he suggested that ideology still plays too big a role. "ONDCP hints at its ideology when it claims that programs such as 'interdiction, anti-trafficking initiatives, drug crop reduction, intelligence sharing and partner nation capacity building... have proven effective in the past.' It offers almost no evidence that this is the case other than some very limited, short-term data on potential cocaine production in Colombia. ONDCP claims it is declining, yet only offers data from 2007 to 2008. Kerlikowske's ONDCP seems ready to accept the dominant drug war ideology of Walters that supply side measures work -- even when long-term data show they do not."

Robinson also lauded ONDCP's apparent revelation that drug addiction is a disease. "Obama's first strategy embraces a new approach to achieving federal drug control goals of 'reducing illicit drug consumption' and 'reducing the consequences of illicit drug use in the United States,' one that is evidence-based and public health oriented," Robinson said. "ONDCP recognizes that drug addiction is a disease and it specifies that federal drug control policy should be assisted by parties in all of the systems that relate to drug use and abuse, including families, schools, communities, faith-based organizations, the medical profession, and so forth. This is certainly a change from the Bush Administration, which repeatedly characterized drug use as a moral or personal failing."

While the Obama drug strategy may have its faults, said Robinson, it is a qualitative improvement over Bush era drug strategies. "Under the Bush Administration, ONDCP came across as downright dismissive of data, evidence, and science, unless it was used to generate fear and increased punitive responses to drug-related behaviors. Honestly, there is very little of this in Obama's first strategy, aside from the usual drugs produce crime, disorder, family disruption, illness, addiction, death, and terrorism argument that has for so long been employed by ONDCP," he said. "Instead, the Strategy is hopeful in tone and lays out dozens of concrete programs and policies that aim to prevent drug use among young people (through public education programs, mentoring initiatives, increasing collaboration between public health and safety organizations); treat adults who have developed drug abuse and addiction problems (though screening and intervention by medical personnel, increased investments in addiction treatment, new treatment medications); and, for the first time, invest heavily in recovery efforts that are restorative in nature and aimed at giving addicts a new lease on life," he noted.

"ONDCP also seems to suddenly have a better grasp on why the vast majority of people who need treatment do not get it," said Robinson. "Under Walters, ONDCP claimed that drug users were in denial and needed to be compassionately coerced to seek treatment. In the 2010 Strategy, ONDCP outlines numerous problems with delivery of treatment services including problems with the nation's health care systems generally. The 2010 Strategy seems so much better informed about the realities of drug treatment than previous Strategy reports," he added.

"The strategy also repeatedly calls for meaningful change in areas such as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders; drug testing in courts (and schools, unfortunately, in spite of data showing it is ineffective); and reentry programs for inmates who need help finding jobs and places to live upon release from prison or jail. ONDCP also implicitly acknowledges that that federal drug control policy imposes costs on families (including the break-up of families), and shows with real data that costs are greater economically for imprisonment of mothers and foster care for their children than family-based treatment," Robinson noted.

"ONDCP makes the case that we are wasting a lot of money dealing with the consequences of drug use and abuse when this money would be better spent preventing use and abuse in the first place. Drug policy reformers will embrace this claim," Robinson predicted.

"The strategy also calls for a renewed emphasis on prescription drug abuse, which it calls 'the fastest growing drug problem in the United States,'" Robinson pointed out. "Here, as in the past, ONDCP suggests regulation is the answer because prescription drugs have legitimate uses that should not be restricted merely because some people use them illegally. And, as in the past, ONDCP does not consider this approach for marijuana, which also has legitimate medicinal users in spite of the fact that some people use it illegally," he said.

The Verdict

"President Obama's first National Drug Control Strategy offers real, meaningful, exciting change," Robinson summed up. "Whether this change amounts to 'change we can believe in' will be debated by drug policy reformers. For those who support demand side measures, many will embrace the 2010 Strategy and call for even greater funding for prevention and treatment. For those who support harm reduction measures such as needled exchange, methadone maintenance and so forth, there will be celebration. Yet, for those who support real alternatives to federal drug control policy such as legalization or decriminalization, all will be disappointed. And even if Obama officials will not refer to its drug control policies as a 'war on drugs,' they still amount to just that."

Weird Drama at the Drug Czar's Office

We've all been wondering why the National Drug Control Strategy hasn't been released yet, and it looks like Newsweek figured it out:

These have been tough times for White House drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske. After spending much of his first year in office crafting a new anti-drug strategy, he had hoped to unveil it two months ago with President Obama. But Kerlikowske couldn't get on Obama's schedule. When he pressed, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel directed him to Vice President Joe Biden, say two Kerlikowske advisers who asked not to be identified talking about an internal matter. But after agreeing to a joint announcement, Biden had to cancel at the last minute when the health-care bill landed on the president's desk. Appearing before a House subcommittee recently, Kerlikowske got hammered for not having yet produced the drug-control strategy that his office was charged with releasing by last Feb. 1.

That's crazy. I guess when the drug czar was getting yelled at by Congress for not releasing the damn thing, he couldn’t exactly explain that he'd been sitting on it for months waiting for Obama or Biden to attend the press conference. What an embarrassing mess. The whole story, along with a copy of the strategy itself, was leaked to Newsweek by someone with access. Mark Kleiman speculates about who that may have been, and Pete Guither has some thoughts on it as well.

Personally, I don't know what to think, except that it sounds like the White House doesn't give a crap about the drug czar's office, and someone decided to expose them for it. It all sounds like a blatant attempt to throw Obama/Biden under the bus for not caring about the drug problem, and it won't work because everyone who knows what the National Drug Control Strategy is also knows that it's a bunch of predictable propaganda regardless of who's standing on stage when it's released.

To make a long story short, it sounds like years of deceptive and hysterical drug war posturing from the drug czar's office have left a legacy of irrelevance and ill-repute. Richly deserved, indeed.

Prohibition: More Drug Law Enforcement Means More Violence, Meta-Study Finds

The upsurge in violence that has shaken Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the so-called drug cartels more than three years ago was entirely predictable, according to a study based on decades of scientific literature. That review, which examined more than 300 studies dating back over 20 years, found that when law enforcement cracks down on drug use and sales, violence almost always increases.

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The study, "Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review," was released Tuesday by the International Center for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), a group of experts based in Britain and Canada. The ICSDP is led by Dr. David Nutt, the former chair of the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who was sacked last fall for his heterodox views on the Labor government's drug policies.

The review found that when police get tough on drug crime, black market prices rise, sparking battles for control of lucrative drug markets. Similarly, when powerful drug bosses are arrested or killed by police, struggles to take their place lead to more violence. Researchers found that in 87% of the studies measuring the impact of increased drug law enforcement on violence, increased law enforcement led to increased violence. None showed an increase in drug law enforcement leading to a reduction in violence.

"Among all the harms related to drug use, it now seems that the very measures most countries use to reduce drug use are actually causing harms to drug users and the community," said Gerry Stimson, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association, and chair of the Liverpool harm reduction conference where the study was presented. "Law enforcement is the biggest single expenditure on drugs, yet has rarely been evaluated. This work indicates an urgent need to shift resources from counterproductive law enforcement to a health-based public health approach."

"From a scientific perspective, the widespread drug violence in places like Mexico and the US, as well as the gun violence we are increasingly seeing on city streets in other countries, appears to be directly linked to drug prohibition," said coauthor Dr. Evan Wood, a researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and founder of the ICSDP. "Prohibition drives up the value of banned substances astronomically, creating lucrative markets exploited by local criminals and worldwide networks of organized crime. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that any disruption of these markets through drug law enforcement seems to have the perverse effect of creating more financial opportunities for organized crime groups, and gun violence often ensues."

The review notes that drug prohibition has created a huge global market in illicit drugs estimated at $320 billion annually and that several studies included in the report suggested that law enforcement removing key players from the drug trade creates power vacuums that engender violent competition. The report warned that as police employ increasingly sophisticated measures to disrupt drug trafficking networks, levels of violence may rise.

"The war on drugs does not work, period," said Dr. Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society and member of the ICSDP's Scientific Board. "Countries around the world have invested in policing and other law-enforcement interventions to try to curtail the drug trade, but these efforts have not met the stated goals of reducing the supply of drugs or drug-related violence. We must take an evidence-based approach to dealing with the drug market, because current strategies are not working and people are paying for ill-considered policies with their lives."

ICSDP head David Nutt said that criminalizing illicit drugs leads to severe and unintended consequences and governments around the world should look to countries with more effective, evidence-based drug policies. "We must assess the relative harms of all drugs and, where appropriate, look to novel strategies for reducing availability through regulatory models that do not create unintended harms such as enriching organized crime or increasing violence," said Dr. Nutt. "The creation of a new international scientific body on drug policy such as the ICSDP represents a critical step forward in helping to educate the public and policymakers on the need for greater inclusion of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies."

US drug czars past and present didn't want to hear it. When asked about the findings by the Associated Press, current Office of National Drug Control Policy head Gil Kerlikowske said the US is shifting toward prevention and treatment -- a claim unmatched by the latest federal drug budget -- but that prohibition must remain. "I don't know of any reason that legalizing something that essentially is bad for you would make it better, from a fiscal standpoint or a public health standpoint or a public safety standpoint," he said.

Kerlikowske's immediate predecessor, John Walters, said the researchers had it backwards. He said most killings after police crackdowns are among criminals and thus, in an ugly and paradoxical way, reflect success. "They're shooting each other, and the reason they're doing that is because they're getting weaker," he said. Don't blame law enforcement, Walters said. "The cause of the violence is not the law. The cause of the violence is the criminals and the viciousness in which criminal activity is carried out," he said.

Feature: Drug Czar Gets Grilled on "New Directions in Drug Policy" By Skeptical Solons, Activists, and Academics

Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the Obama administration is seeking "a new direction in drug policy," but was challenged both by lawmakers and by a panel of academics and activists on the point during the same hearing. The action took place at a hearing of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee in which the ONDCP drug budget and the forthcoming 2010 National Drug Strategy were the topics at hand.

The hearing comes in the wake of various drug policy reforms enacted by the Obama administration, including a Justice Department policy memo directing US attorneys and the DEA to lay off medical marijuana in states where it is legal, the removal of the federal ban on needle exchange funding, and administration support for ending or reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders.

But it also comes in the wake of the announcement of the ONDCP 2011 drug budget, which at $15.5 billion is up more than $500 million from this year. While treatment and prevention programs got a 6.5% funding increase, supply reduction (law enforcement, interdiction, and eradication) continues to account for almost exactly the same percentage of the overall budget -- 64%--as it did in the Bush administration. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction (prevention and treatment).

Citing health care costs from drug use and rising drug overdose death figures, the nation "needs to discard the idea that enforcement alone can eliminate our nation's drug problem," Kerlikowske said. "Only through a comprehensive and balanced approach -- combining tough, but fair, enforcement with robust prevention and treatment efforts -- will we be successful in stemming both the demand for and supply of illegal drugs in our country."

So far, at least, when it comes to reconfiguring US drug control efforts, Kerlikowske and the Obama administration are talking the talk, but they're not walking the walk. That was the contention of subcommittee chair Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and several of the session's panelists.

"Supply side spending has not been effective," said Kucinich, challenging the budget breakdown.

"Supply side spending is important for a host of reasons, whether we're talking about eradication or our international partners where drugs are flowing," replied the drug czar.

"Where's the evidence?" Kucinich demanded. "Describe with statistics what evidence you have that this approach is effective."

Kerlikowske was reduced to citing the case of Colombia, where security and safety of the citizenry has increased. But he failed to mention that despite about $4 billion in US anti-drug aid in the past decade, Colombian coca and cocaine production remain at high levels.

"What parts of your budget are most effective?" asked Kucinich.

"The most cost-effective approaches would be prevention and treatment," said Kerlikowske.

"What percentage is supply and what percentage is demand oriented?" asked Rep. Jim Jordan (D-OH).

"It leans much more toward supply, toward interdiction and enforcement," Kerlikowske conceded.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) was more old school, demanding a tougher response to Mexico's wave of prohibition-related violence and questioning the decision not to eradicate opium in Afghanistan. "The Southwest border is critical. I would hope the administration would give you the resources you need for a Plan Colombia on steroids," said Issa.

"There is no eradication program in Afghanistan," Issa complained. "I was in areas we did control and we did nothing about eradication."

"I don't think anyone is comfortable seeing US forces among the poppy fields," Kerlikowske replied. "Ambassador Holbrooke has taken great pains to explain the rationale for that," he added, alluding to Holbrooke's winning argument that eradication would push poppy farming peasants into the hands of the Taliban.

"The effectiveness of eradication seems to be near zero, which is very interesting from a policy point of view," interjected Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL).

Kucinich challenged Kerlikowske about harm reduction. "At the UN, you said the US supported many interventions, but you said that, 'We do not use the phrase harm reduction.' You are silent on both syringe exchange programs and the issue of harm reduction interventions generally," he noted. "Do you acknowledge that these interventions can be effective in reducing death and disease, does your budget proposed to fund intervention programs that have demonstrated positive results in drug overdose deaths, and what is the basis of your belief that the term harm reduction implies promotion of drug use?"

Kerlikowske barely responded. "We don't use the term harm reduction because it is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "People talk about it as if it were legalization, but personally, I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about whether to put a definition on it."

When challenged by Kucinich specifically about needle exchange programs, Kerlikowske conceded that they can be effective. "If they are part of a comprehensive drug reduction effort, they make a lot of sense," he said.

The grilling of Kerlikowske took up the first hour of the two-hour session. The second hour consisted of testimony from Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann, Brookings Institute foreign policy fellow and drugs and counterinsurgency expert Vanda Felbab-Brown, former ONDCP employee and drug policy analyst John Carnevale, and University of Maryland drug policy expert Peter Reuter. It didn't get any better for drug policy orthodoxy.

"Let me be frank," said Nadelmann as he began his testimony. "We regard US drug policy as a colossal failure, a gross violation of human rights and common sense," he said, citing the all too familiar statistics about arrests, incarceration, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and drug overdose deaths. "All of these are an egregious violation of fundamental American values."

"Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Nadelmann. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition."

Nadelmann identified four problems with current drug strategy:

  • The drug war's flawed performance measures;
  • The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget;
  • The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies;
  • The administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies.

"They want to move toward a public health model that focuses on reducing demand for drugs, but no drug policy will succeed unless there are the resources to implement it," said Carnevale. "Past budgets emphasizing supply reduction failed to produce results, and our drug policy stalled -- there has been no change in overall drug use in this decade."

Carnevale noted that the 2011 ONDCP budget gave the largest percentage increase to prevention and treatment, but that its priorities were still skewed toward supply reduction. "The budget continues to over-allocate funds where they are least effective, in interdiction and source country programs."

"The drug trade poses multiple and serious threats, ranging from threats to security and the legal economy to threats to legality and political processes," said Felbab-Brown, "but millions of people depend on the illegal drug trade for a livelihood. There is no hope supply-side policies can disrupt the global drug trade."

Felbab-Brown said she was "encouraged" that the Obama administration had shifted toward a state-building approach in Afghanistan, but that she had concerns about how policy is being operationalized there. "We need to adopt the right approach to sequencing eradication in Afghanistan," she said. "Alternative livelihoods and state-building need to be comprehensive, well-funded, and long-lasting, and not focused on replacing the poppy crop."

"Eradication in Afghanistan has little effect on domestic supply and reduction," said Kucinich. "Should these kinds of programs be funded?"

"I am quite convinced that spending money for eradication, especially aerial eradication, is not effective," replied Carnevale. "The point of eradication in Colombia was to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the US, but I see no such effect."

"We're dealing with global commodity markets," said Nadelmann. "If one source is knocked out, someone else will pop up. What's missing is any sort of strategic analysis or planning. If you accept that these drugs are going to be produced, you need to manage it to reduce the harms."

"The history of the last 20 years of the cocaine and heroin trade shows how much mobility there is in cultivation and trafficking," said Reuter. "What we do has a predictable effect. When we pushed down on trafficking in Florida, that lead to increases in Mexico. The evidence is striking that all we are doing is moving the trade."

Times are changing in Washington. What was once unassailable drug war orthodoxy is not under direct assault, and not just from activists and academics, but among members of Congress itself. But while the drug czar talks the happy talk about "new directions in drug policy," the Obama administration -- with some notable exceptions -- looks to still have a drug policy on cruise control.

Congressional Hearing: ONDCP's Fiscal Year 2011 National Drug Control Budget: Are We Still Funding a War on Drugs?

This Congressional hearing looks at the Obama Administration's drug war policies. The U.S. House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), will hold a hearing on the White House's drug war budget and forthcoming 2010 National Drug Control Strategy. The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (also known as the drug czar), Gil Kerlikowske, and the executive director of the anti-drug-war Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, will both be testifying. Mr. Nadelmann testimony will focus on: * The drug war's flawed performance measures; * The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget; * The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies; * The Administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies. The hearing comes in the wake of significant drug policy reforms under the Obama Administration, including a directive urging federal law enforcement agencies to stop arresting medical marijuana patients and caregivers in compliance with their state's medical marijuana law, and the repeal of the two decade old federal syringe funding ban, which prohibited states from funding syringe exchange programs with federal money to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Additionally, a few weeks ago a White House backed bi-partisan bill reforming the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. The Administration's drug war budget, however, is still focused overwhelmingly on failed supply side policies and ignores important harm reduction measures. Director Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal last year that he doesn't like to use the term "war on drugs" because "[w]e're not at war with people in this country." Yet 64% of their budget - virtually the same as under the Bush Administration - focuses on largely futile interdiction efforts as well as arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating extraordinary numbers of people. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction. The budget also ignores life-saving harm reduction measures such as naloxone-distribution and heroin assisted treatment, widely viewed around the world as a necessary part of any balanced, evidenced based drug strategy. "Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition."
Data: 
Wed, 04/14/2010 - 10:00am - 12:00pm
Localização: 
Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20003
United States

Press Release: Drug Czar and DPA's Ethan Nadelmann Testify on Obama's Drug War Policies

For Immediate Release: April 13, 2010 Contact: Tony Newman, tel: 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper, tel: 202-669-6430 Wednesday: Congressional Hearing Looks at Obama Administration's Drug War Policies Both Nation's Drug Czar, Gil Kerkikowske, and Nation's Leading Critic of Drug War, Ethan Nadelmann, to Testify Despite Significant Reforms, Administration's 2011 Budget Criticized for Mirroring Bush's Emphasis on Arrests and Incarceration over Treatment The U.S. House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), will hold a hearing Wednesday morning on the White House's drug war budget and forthcoming 2010 National Drug Control Strategy. The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (also known as the drug czar), Gil Kerlikowske, and the executive director of the anti-drug-war Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, will both be testifying. Mr. Nadelmann testimony will focus on: * The drug war's flawed performance measures; * The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget; * The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies; * The Administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies. The hearing comes in the wake of significant drug policy reforms under the Obama Administration, including a directive urging federal law enforcement agencies to stop arresting medical marijuana patients and caregivers in compliance with their state's medical marijuana law, and the repeal of the two decade old federal syringe funding ban, which prohibited states from funding syringe exchange programs with federal money to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Additionally, a few weeks ago a White House backed bi-partisan bill reforming the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. The Administration's drug war budget, however, is still focused overwhelmingly on failed supply side policies and ignores important harm reduction measures. Director Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal last year that he doesn't like to use the term "war on drugs" because "[w]e're not at war with people in this country." Yet 64% of their budget - virtually the same as under the Bush Administration - focuses on largely futile interdiction efforts as well as arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating extraordinary numbers of people. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction. The budget also ignores life-saving harm reduction measures such as naloxone-distribution and heroin assisted treatment, widely viewed around the world as a necessary part of any balanced, evidenced based drug strategy. "Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition." What: Congressional hearing titled, "ONDCP's Fiscal Year 2011 National Drug Control Budget: Are We Still Funding a War on Drugs?" When: 10:00AM, Wednesday, April 14th. Where: 2154 Rayburn HOB ###
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Washington, DC
United States

Legalization: Drug Czar Avoids Answering Question on Fed Response to California Initiative

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske declined to directly answer a question about how the federal government would respond if California voters passed the Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act, the marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Oaksterdam entrepreneur Richard Lee. Kerlikowske's no comment came in a Thursday webcast on ABC News' Top Line program.

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Gil Kerlikowske in his Seattle days
Kerlikowske said he wouldn't speculate on how the Obama administration would respond to a legalization victory in November. "Since it hasn't passed -- right now it would be improper to speculate on what the federal government's role is," he said.

The Obama administration has made it clear it would respect the rights of medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, but it is not at all clear that it would respond in the same way to legalization for personal use.

When prodded, Kerlikowske said the federal government could respond in a variety of ways, including filing lawsuits to litigate differences between state and federal drug laws. "You can envision a lot of different things," he said.

Let's hope that come November, the question is no longer hypothetical and the administration will be forced to grapple with the question of how to deal with Californians having voted to free the weed. Then things could get really interesting.

Legalization: So Say They Now -- US and Mexican Officials Say No to Debating It

Representatives of the US and Mexican governments meeting at the US-Mexico Bi-national Drug Demand Reduction Policy Meeting in Washington, DC, this week took pains to make clear that neither government is prepared to consider drug legalization. Although legalization wasn't on the meeting's agenda, both Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), and Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos felt impelled to denounce it.

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status quo at all costs (follow top link above for video)
"Legalization isn't a subject under discussion under the Obama administration under any circumstances," said Kerlikowske. Such proposals do not hold up "under the thinnest veil of scrutiny," he said. "The reasons for this are multiple: There is no evidence that legalization would reduce the violence or benefit the economy."

"In Mexico," said Villalobos, "and I want to emphasize this in a firm manner, there is a clear consensus to maintain the criminalization of the cultivation, transportation, possession, commerce, or use of substances identified as dangerous in the international conventions. We are convinced that the legalization of the use of drugs is not only dangerous and distant, but unviable in practical terms. Drugs aren't dangerous because they're illegal, they're illegal because they're dangerous," he added, stealing a hoary trope that is a favorite of UN Office on Drugs and Crime head Antonio Maria Costa.

But the consensus of which Villalobos spoke is badly tattered. The rejection of drug legalization comes amidst a rising clamor for a rethink of prohibitionist drug policies. The calls for change are growing increasingly loud south of the border, where Mexican President Felipe Calderon's militarization of the drug war has led to growing public dismay with its bloody death toll, accusations of human rights abuses by the military, and the campaign's inability to have an noticeable impact on the so-called drug cartels.

On Monday, Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, once again called for debating legalization. "We need to end the war," he said. "It's time to debate legalizing drugs," he said, adding, "Then maybe we can separate violence from what is a health problem."

Similarly, at a conference in Mexico City this week, academics, attorneys, and activists joined former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria in calling for drug legalization. (See related story here.)

The officials also took some flak from north of the border. "The only solution to the current crisis is to tax and regulate marijuana," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Once again, Mexican and US officials are ignoring the fact that the cartels get 70% of their profits from marijuana. It's time to face the reality that the US's marijuana prohibition is fueling a bloodbath in Mexico and the United States."

Congress has approved a three-year $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package for Mexico and Central America, and this year the Obama administration is seeking an additional $310 million in anti-drug aid for Mexico.

"It is illogical, at best, to continue throwing money at this failed policy," Houston said. "The government will never eliminate the demand for marijuana, but it can put an end to the monopoly drug cartels currently hold on America's largest cash crop. Lifting marijuana prohibition would take away the cartels' largest source of income and the main reason for the horrifically brutal violence perpetrated by rival drug groups."

But if Washington and Mexico City just whistle loudly enough as they walk past the graveyard, perhaps they can continue to ignore the rising clamor just a while longer.

Why Do We Even Have a Drug Czar?

Tim Lynch at the Cato Institute has a nice piece in The Washington Times calling for the total elimination of the drug czar's office. It costs American taxpayers $400 million a year just to have these guys walk around cheerleading for the drug war, and they're not even good at it.

If drug czar Gil Kerlikoswke is serious about ending the war mentality that has long defined our nation's anti-drug crusade, he should begin by firing himself Michael Douglas-style, and walking off into the sunset. I'm sure Cato could find a desk for him.

Feature: Obama Seeks Increase in Drug War Spending in a Drug Budget on Autopilot

The Obama administration released its Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal this week, including the federal drug control budget. On the drug budget, the Obama administration is generally following the same course as the Bush administration and appears to be flying on autopilot.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), the administration is requesting $15.5 billion for drug control, an increase of 3.5% over the current budget. Drug law enforcement funding would grow from $9.7 billion this year to $9.9 billion in 2011, an increase of 5.2%. Demand side measures, such as prevention and treatment, also increased from $5.2 billion this year to $5.6 billion next year.

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The $15.5 billion dollar drug budget actually undercounts the real cost of the federal drug war by failing to include some significant drug policy-driven costs. For instance, operations for the federal Bureau of Prisons are budgeted at $8.3 billion for 2011. With more than half of all federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses, the real cost of current drug policies should increase by at least $4 billion, but only $79 million of the prisons budget is counted as part of the national drug strategy budget.

The Obama drug budget largely maintains the roughly two-to-one imbalance between spending on treatment and prevention and spending on law enforcement. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske called the imbalanced budget "balanced."

Highlights and lowlights:

  • Funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration prevention programs (SAMHSA) is set at $254.2 million, up $29.6 million from this year, while funding for SAMHSA treatment programs is set at $635.4 million, up $101.2 million from this year.
  • Funding for ONDCP's Drug Free Communities program is set at $85.5 million, down $9.5 million from this year.
  • Funding for the widely challenged National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign is set at $66.5 million, an increase of more than 50% over this year.
  • The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring II program (ADAM) is funded at $10 million. It got no money this year.
  • Funding for the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment program is set at $1.799 billion, the same as this year.
  • Funding for the Second Chance Act for reintegrating people completing prison sentences is set at $50 million, a whopping 66% increase over this year.
  • Funding for the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force is set at $579.3 million, up $50.8 million over this year.
  • Funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program is set at $210 million, down $29 million from this year.
  • Funding for the Defense Department's counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan is set at $501.5 billion, up about one-third over this year.
  • Funding for State Department counternarcotics activities in West Africa is set at $13.2 million, up $10 million from this year.
  • Funding for State Department counternarcotics activities in Colombia is set at $178.6 million, down $26.6 million from this year.
  • Funding for the DEA is set at $2.131 billion, up 5.5% over this year. That pays for 8,399 employees, 4,146 of whom are DEA agents.
  • Funding for the Office of Justice Programs' Byrne grant program, Southwest Border Prosecutor Initiative, Northern Border Prosecutor Initiative, and Prescription Drug Monitoring program has been eliminated.

"The new budget proposal demonstrates the Obama administrations' commitment to a balanced and comprehensive drug strategy," said Kerlikowske. "In a time of tight budgets and fiscal restraint, these new investments are targeted at reducing Americans' drug use and the substantial costs associated with the health and social consequences of drug abuse."

Drug reformers tended to disagree with Kerlikowske's take on the budget. "This is certainly not change we can believe in," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's extremely similar to the Bush administration drug budgets, especially in terms of supply side versus demand side. In that respect, it's extremely disappointing. There's nothing innovative there."

"This budget reflects the same Bush-era priorities that led to the total failure of American drug policy during the last decade," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "One of the worst examples is $66 million requested for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign when every independent study has called it a failure. The president is throwing good money after bad when what we really need is a new direction."

Houston also took umbrage with the accounting legerdemain that continues to allow ONDCP to understate the real cost of federal drug policies. "It's disconcerting to see the Obama administration employ the same tactics in counting the drug budget that the Bush administration did," said Houston. "Congress told ONDCP in 2006 to stop excluding certain items from the budget, and we had a Democratic committee chairman excoriate John Walters over his cooking of the books, but it doesn't appear they've done anything to stop that. Maybe they have to cook the books to make this look like a successful program."

But reformers also noted that some good drug policy news had already come out of the Obama administration. They also suggested that the real test of Obama's direction in drug policy would come in March, when Kerlikowske releases the annual national drug control strategy.

"I'm a little disappointed," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "but I think there is a significant difference in the environment from the Bush years. Maybe not in this budget, but things like issuing those Department of Justice regulations on medical marijuana have made a major difference."

"They are unwilling or unable to change the drug war budget, but the true measure of their commitment to a shift in drug policy will be the national drug control strategy that comes out in a few weeks," said Piper. "The question is will their drug strategy look like Bush's and like their drug budget does, or will they articulate a new approach to drug policy more in line with the president's comments on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal justice one."

The Obama administration's decision to not interfere with medical marijuana in the states was one example of a paradigm shift, said Piper. So was its support for repealing the federal needle exchange funding ban and ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

"In a lot of ways, the budget trimming that comes out of the White House is a fraud because they know Congress won't make those cuts," said Piper. "I wonder if that's the game Obama is playing with the Byrne grants. That's the kind of thing they can articulate in the drug strategy if they wanted to. They should at least talk about the need to shift from the supply side to the demand side approach. They could even admit that this year's budget does not reflect that, but still call for it."

This is only the administration's budget request, of course. What it will look like by the time Congress gets through with it is anybody's guess. But it strongly suggests that, so far, there's not that much new under the sun in the Obama White House when it comes to the drug budget.

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