Pubdate: Fri, 05 Mar 2010
Source: Austin Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2010 Austin Chronicle Corp.
Author: Jordan Smith


Time To Throw Tomatoes?

Obama's Drug Program Highlights President Barack  Obama's fiscal year
2011 national drug control budget  seeks $15.5 billion - a 3.5%
increase over the 2010  budget - to combat drug use and its
consequences. The  funding would go toward the five major functions
listed  above.

In announcing the release of the proposed federal drug  control budget
for 2011, Pres-id-ent Barack Obama's  drug czar, former Seat-tle
Police Chief Gil  Kerlikowske, declared that the new budget
"demonstrates  the ... Administration's commitment to a balanced and
comprehensive drug strategy." The budget is Obama's  first with
Kerlikowske at the head of the White House  Office of National Drug
Control Policy. "In a time of  tight budgets and fiscal restraint,"
continued  Kerlikow-ske, "these new investments are targeted at
reducing Americans' drug use and the substantial costs  associated
with the health and social consequences of  drug abuse."

There was no waxing on unnecessarily about the scourge  of any
particular drug, a marked departure from the  rhetoric of
Kerli-kowske's predecessor - George W.  Bush's czar, John Walters -
who talked on and on, ad  nauseam, about the horrors of marijuana. The
new czar's  trumpeting of a "balanced" and "comprehensive" strategy
for dealing with the nation's drug issues seemed a good  sign, given
Obama's campaign-trail promises - notably,  that drug use should be
viewed as a public health issue  - and Kerlikowske's own comments last
year, upon his  nomination to the ONDCP seat, about "ending" the war
on  drugs (the government is not at war with its people, he  said).

Unfortunately, looking at the meat of the budget  recommendations,
released in a 14-page document in  February, it doesn't appear that
much is balanced here  - neither is there much to suggest that the
promise of  a new way of doing things has come to pass. Instead,  the
first Obama drug budget request under Kerlikowske  looks amazingly
like those of the past: Fully 64% of  the budget is marked for supply
reduction efforts (that  is, for law enforcement and interdiction
efforts),  while just 36% is to be spent on demand reduction,
including treatment and prevention. Meaning, in short,  that
tomorrow's drug war looks startlingly like the war  waged under Bush
and Walters.

That said, the $15.5 billion budget request does have  its bright
spots: Funding for treatment, while still a  significantly smaller
portion of the budget than  reserved for law enforcement (which gets a
modest boost  in 2011), would increase by nearly 4% from last year's
allocation and is up 9% from Bush's 2009 budget. And a  significant
amount of money has been slated to go to  criminal justice programs,
including drug courts, which  have had great success across the
country in getting  people off drugs and out of jail (in many such
programs, participants have had the charges against  them dismissed,
meaning that the collateral damage of a  drug conviction can be
avoided). Funding will also  increase for other "alternatives to
prison"  initiatives, as well as re-entry programs to help those
released from prison to successfully rejoin their

Funding for those bright spots, however, still lags  behind funding
for the more "traditional" approach to  drug control, which is
interdiction efforts: The U.S.  Coast Guard, for example, is slated to
get a whopping  $1.2 billion in funds in an attempt to deny "smugglers
  access to maritime routes." Similarly, a new allocation  of $31.2
million will go to the Caribbean Basin  Security Initiative, which
aims to keep drug-runners  from using the islands to run their dope
and launder  their profits. In all, the combined efforts of law
enforcement to stop the flow of drugs would be funded  with nearly $10
billion - a 3.3% increase over Bush's  last budget. In contrast,
treatment efforts would see  just $3.7 billion. This is disheartening
to Bill Piper,  director of national affairs for the Drug Policy
Alli-ance Network. "Dollar for dollar, treatment and  prevention are
so much more effective than law  enforcement and interdiction," he
says, adding that the  budget priorities ! set out in this funding
request "make  you wonder if they're really serious" about changing
the nation's approach to drug policy.

Indeed, on that point the jury is still out. DPA  Executive Director
Ethan Nadelmann notes that there has  been a distinct "shift in
rhetoric, which is  significant." Obama has made clear his support for
  funding needle exchange programs, which help reduce the  spread of
diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis; the  Department of Justice has
called for an end to the  ubiquitous medi-pot raids of the Bush era
(though,  under the leadership of Drug Enforcement Administration
head Michele Leon-hart, a Bush holdover, the raids have  continued,
albeit less often); and "they're moving  forward in good faith" to fix
the disparity in  sentencing between crack and powder cocaine, which
has  wrought devastating discrimination in sentencing,  mostly for
low-level black offenders. "I'm not one of  those people that thought
things would change overnight  when Obama came in. I understand how
deeply embedded  the drug war is," said Nadelmann. "I'm surprised by
the  progress in the first year! . But when it comes to the
big-picture stuff, they don't seem able" to articulate  a new course.

Still, that may change - and soon, says Piper, when the  ONDCP
releases its annual drug control strategy, a  big-picture document
that should describe exactly where  the feds are coming from. (The
strategy should be  released this month.) "The question is, what is
going  to be in the drug strategy, and will it articulate a  new
start? A new chapter?" he asks. Or will it be more  of the same -
using police power to try to stop drugs  from coming into the country
and punishing those who  use drugs. Piper is hoping for a strategy
that will  articulate ways not only to reduce the harm associated
with doing drugs but also the harm done by the war on  drugs. "That
would be something," he says. "If it is  different, that will be
encouraging. If not, then we  should all throw tomatoes at them." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D