On Wednesday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released the months-long overdue budget and strategy for the agency, requesting a record $15.5 billion for law enforcement, interdiction, treatment and research.
Director Gil Kerlikowske said the strategy puts a focus on five prevention and addiction treatment. It allocates $43. 6 million for a permanent community drug monitoring system; $44.9 million for expanding and improving addiction care; $7.2 to train primary healthcare providers to intervene in emerging substance abuse cases; and $22.6 million to create a community-based adolescent prevention system.
"The Strategy outlines a balanced approach that emphasizes community-based prevention, integration of evidence-based treatment into the mainstream health care system, implementation of the Southwest Border Strategy and other international partnerships to disrupt transnational drug trafficking organizations, as well as innovations in the criminal justice system that help people get the treatment they need and reduce rates of recidivism," Kerlikowske said in a statement.
But looking at the actual budget numbers, the allocation is anything but balanced. About 64 percent of the budget – or nearly $10 billion – goes toward enforcement and interdiction. The other 36 percent -- $5.6 billion – goes to a combination of treatment and prevention. Despite rhetoric that the budget has a new "focus" on treatment, the ONDCP's budget in 2002 actually allocated a greater percentage toward demand reduction – 45.6 percent or $4.9 billion – than it does today.
In the years since, funding for law enforcement has increased from $5.9 billion in 2002 to $9.8 billion in 2010, despite much evidence that supply interdiction and enforcement have little effect over drug use rates over time, according to figures from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Looking over the years 2002 to 2008, self-reported marijuana users remained relatively steady, with 6.2 percent using in the past month in 2002 and 6.1 percent in 2008. And despite the deployment of troops in Mexico to disrupt smugglers, $6 billion for Plan Columbia, past-month cocaine use dipped from 0.9 percent of the population to 0.7 percent, after an increase in use mid-decade.
The cost of imprisoning the more than one million Americans arrested for drug crimes each year is not included in the budget. Drug law violations account for the most arrests, at 1.7 million in 2008, than any other arrest category, according to the FBI.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of retired and active police who have enforced drug laws and now are active in fighting for their repeal, says Kerlikowske might say he doesn't want to fight the war on drugs, but his budget doesn't reflect that.
"The drug czar is saying all the right things about ending the 'war on drugs' and enacting a long-overdue balanced strategy focused on a public health approach," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore cop and incoming executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Unfortunately the reality of the budget numbers doesn't match up to the rhetoric. Two-thirds of the budget is dedicated to the same old 'war on drugs' approach and only a third goes to public health strategies. My experience policing the beat tells me that it's certainly time for a new approach, but unfortunately this administration is failing to provide the necessary leadership to actually make it happen instead of just talking about it."
Drug policy reform advocates are pleased, however, with the strategy's support for syringe exchange programs and its criticism of laws that bar people with drug convictions from receiving public benefits like student aid.
"It's great to see the administration starting to talk like they want to actually change failed drug policies," said Franklin. "But we can't let them get away with claiming that they've ended the 'war on drugs' while we continue to arrest 800,000 people a year on marijuana charges alone."
The Oregon Partnership, a nonprofit partner dedicated to ending substance abuse and suicide, applauded the release of the strategy.
"Any movement toward increasing treatment is a really, really good thing," said Judy Cushing, executive director of Oregon Partnership.
Communications director Pete Shulberg said he hopes the agency will put more resources toward treatment and prevention as these resources prove themselves to be effective.