Pubdate: Sat, 6 Feb 2010
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2010 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Timothy Lynch
Note: Timothy Lynch is director of the libertarian Cato Institute's 
Project on Criminal Justice.


Voters are disgusted by the reckless spending of politicians in
Washington. The backlash is coming, so policymakers are now scrambling
to do something, or at least be seen as doing something, about the
enormous federal debt. Now is a good time for Congress to abolish
government agencies that are outdated, dysfunctional or just

A prime candidate for abolition is the office of the so-called "drug

The position of the drug czar was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act
in 1988. It was a time of drug war hysteria. Former first lady Nancy
Reagan called casual drug users "accomplices to murder." President
George H.W. Bush vowed to make the war one of his top priorities.
During his inaugural address, he said, "Take my word for it. This
scourge will stop." The conservative firebrand William Bennett became
the first czar and made headlines with brash talk of beheading drug
dealers. The nation's capital was declared to be a "high intensity
drug-trafficking" zone. There were raids and arrests - including the
notorious trial of then-Mayor Marion Barry.

In theory, the drug czar's office was supposed to develop a long-term
strategy to win the drug war and bring about a "drug-free society."
Each year, the czar would call for more governmental efforts to
"reduce demand" and to "disrupt the supply" of narcotics. Instead of
millions, the government started to spend billions.

The bureaucracy flourished as more agents were hired and more
high-tech equipment was purchased. The criminal justice system
expanded to handle the influx of cases. More prosecutors. More judges.
More prison guards.

And yet, millions and millions of Americans continued using drugs.We
now know that Presidents Obama and Clinton were among them. Indeed,
nowadays, police agencies like the FBI can only recruit young people
if the agencies are willing to overlook past drug use.

The goal of "disrupting supply" has been proved farcical. Drugs are as
widely available as ever. Indeed, Washington remains a city with
thriving drug traffic. There are open-air drug markets in many
neighborhoods. More than a decade after the drug czar went into
business, a commission on federal law enforcement practices gave this
blunt assessment: "Despite a record number of seizures and a flood of
legislation, this Commission is not aware of any evidence that the
flow of narcotics into the United States has been reduced." No one
thinks that hiring more Border Patrol agents will make a dent.

The violence and destabilization have become most acute at our
southern border. According to the Los Angeles Times' ongoing project
on the drug war in Mexico, more than 9,900 people have been slain in
Mexican drug-related violence since January 2007. The kidnappings and
killings that have become commonplace across the border are now
spilling into the American Southwest. Government efforts in Colombia
have already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $5 billion, and Mexico is
slated to receive about $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, the killings continue
at a rate that has prompted the State Department to issue travel
advisories to Americans traveling to our southern neighbor.

The drug czar has also meddled in local politics. Some states, for
example, have moved to change their laws to allow marijuana to be used
by certain patients in consultation with doctors. Whenever a state has
a referendum about medical marijuana on the ballot, the federal drug
czar typically comes in to lobby against the measure. Since the czar
was created to oversee federal policies, such politicking at the local
level is outside his sphere - and is thus an abuse of power.

The office of the drug czar issues an annual report regarding the
efficacy of drug policies. Scholars are skeptical of those reports
because the bureaucrats invariably prepare reports that come to the
defense of existing policy and "spin" the data to find good news and
"progress." An independent analysis of the drug office in 2007 found
"overwhelming evidence of consistently false and dishonest claims."

Perversely, Congress tends to reward government agencies that perform
poorly. When the drug czar's office was created in 1990, its budget
was $12 million; this year, the office will cost more than $400 million.

If Congress wants to take a serious step to curb reckless and wasteful
spending, it ought to admit the futility of the drug war in the same
way we came to realize that alcohol prohibition was misguided. If
Congress is only ready to abolish some of its very worst mistakes, it
should get rid of our drug czar.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake