The Road to Hell: President and Drug Czar Misguided on Policies

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Growing up, I remember hearing my mom’s mantra of “words matter,” followed by “but, Mija, as important as what you say, is what you do.” She said it repeatedly, just as I said it to my son when he was growing up. One of my favorite quotes is “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I believe as policy makers we should always clearly see the link between not just our words, but our actions. We must also understand how those intentions impact others as well.

Clearly, as both the President and the Drug Czar put out their new spin on the Drug War, I saw construction on the road to hell was well underway.

“Drug policy should be rooted in neuroscience, not political science,” said Gil Kerlikowske, White House Drug Czar. In a conference call, Kerlikowske said while law enforcement will still play a role in overall national drug policy, evidence-based public health and safety approaches aimed at reducing drug use will also be employed.

The budget and performance summaries of the National Drug Control Strategy were released recently while the Drug Czar hit the media road to discuss their new approach to solving America’s drug problem. The dilemma though, is the budget which defines how we approach drug addiction does not match his words.

Sean Dunagan a former DEA Senior Intelligence Analyst and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker picked apart the budget and pointed out the disconnect between Kerlikowske’s actions and his words.

The total drug control budget is up $415 million from last year, for a total of $25.6 billion while other programs are being cut across the country. It includes no decrease for enforcement efforts in and outside of the United States and, in fact, increases the DEA budget by $40.9 million. Domestic enforcement is the highest it’s ever been, at $9.4 billion. Other nuggets from the budget are the increase in spending by the Bureau of Prisons, who are seeking a $120 million dollar increase for the 51% of inmates serving time for drug offenses. As Dunagan pointed out (sarcasm here), on a positive note, we should acknowledge the 4.6% increase in funding to treatment programs and happily, the law enforcement side took less than 1% reduction to 2008 standards.

“The total drug control budget is up $415 million from last year, for a total of $25.6 billion while other programs are being cut across the country.”

In California, we see some of that enforcement-heavy budget sustaining the attack on the medical marijuana industry. The DEA is targeting not just dispensaries, but landlords as well by threatening them with 40 years in federal prison for simply renting space to dispensaries. So what does this say about our priorities when we are willing to spend more money on incarcerating property owners than allowing cancer patients safe access to medicine?

So let’s get back to the statement “Drug policy should be rooted in neuroscience, not political science.” The increase for treatment and prevention programs increased by a mere 1.5% from 40.3%-41.8% of the budget. This increase includes $5 million for mandatory drug testing and $20 million for another media campaign targeting teenagers and young adults with the supposed purpose of balancing the perceived “pro-drug message” in our culture. One example is the most recent media campaign by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP),  Above the Influence which has been touted as a success, yet according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the performance measures set by the ONDCP for teen drug use have not been met. released their analysis of the GAO report which has not been widely discussed by any of the major media networks.

“For instance, under the broader goal of ‘curtailing illicit drug consumption in America,’ ONDCP had set use-reduction goals to be achieved by 2015. It sought to reduce last-month drug use by teens by 15%, but has achieved no movement. Similarly, it sought a 15% reduction in past-month use by young adults, but has achieved no movement. It also sought to reduce lifetime use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco among 8th graders by 15%, and was making progress toward its goal with alcohol and tobacco, but not with illegal drugs.”

This is where both the President and the Drug Czar should be shown for being disingenuous. Their words mean nothing, and do virtually nothing to address the many issues of drug addiction and the collateral consequences of drug prohibition in America. They have refined their message to make it seem like they care, while continuing to provide a top-down emphasis on enforcement and incarceration. Like my mom always told me, Mr. Drug Czar, words and actions are linked. Until you end drug prohibition and embrace all the pillars of harm reduction equally by putting our taxpayer-funded dollars where your mouth is, I won’t consider your “21st century approach” progress.