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Pro-legalization cops slam drug war recalibration, say Obama ‘just talking about it’

Stephen C. Webster
Raw Story
May 12, 2010

The White House announced Tuesday a new strategy for the decades-old War on Drugs, saying it plans to place emphasis on treatment and prevention and urging sharp reductions to drug abuse rates nation-wide.

The plan’s rosy language, however, doesn’t quite mesh with the reality of the drug war’s budget allotment: a fact that did not go unnoticed by activist group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which chastised the administration as “just talking about” a truly changed strategy over actually moving ahead with one.

President Obama’s plan calls for a 15 percent reduction in the rate of drug use by youths and chronic drug users as well as in drug induced deaths by 2015.

It aims to cut drug use by young adults, and the incidence of drugged driving, by 10 percent, according to a summary of the strategy released by the White House.

Obama said it make the drug war take a more balanced approach to the persistent, unsolved social and medical problem of addiction that the United States has dealt with through law enforcement and incarceration — a policy that has affected American minority groups much more severely than whites.

“By boosting community-based prevention, expanding treatment, strengthening law enforcement, and working collaboratively with our global partners, we will reduce drug use and the great damage it causes in our communities,” Obama said in a statement.

“I am confident that when we take the steps outlined in this strategy, we will make our country stronger and our people healthier and safer,” he added.

In a media advisory, LEAP cited figures reported by RAW STORY in February, noting: “The strategy devotes 64 percent of the budget to traditional supply reduction strategies like enforcement and interdiction while reserving only 36 percent for demand reduction approaches like treatment and prevention. And, due to accounting changes made under the Bush administration and maintained by Obama, the budget ratio doesn’t even take into account some costs of the ‘war on drugs’ such as incarceration.”

According to 2011 funding “highlights” released by the ONDCP (PDF link), the Obama administration is actually growing the drug war and tilting its funds heavily toward law enforcement over treatment.

The budget places America’s drug war spending at $15.5 billion for fiscal year 2011; an increase of 3.5 percent over FY 2010. That figure reflects a 5.2 percent increase in overall enforcement funding, growing from $9.7 billion in FY 2010 to $9.9 billion in FY 2011. Addiction treatment and preventative measures, however, are budgeted at $5.6 billion for FY 2011, an increase from $5.2 billion in FY 2010.

An ONDCP press release described the budget outlay as “balanced.”

“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 LEAP, according to a release. “Unfortunately the reality of the budget numbers don’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.”

The White House characterized law enforcement’s role in the strategy as “critical,” but placed much of its emphasis on creating new community treatment centers and exploring new options for eradicating addiction. It also points at prescription drug abuse as the nation’s fastest-growing drug-related health problem.

“It’s great to see the administration starting to talk like they want to actually change failed drug policies,” Franklin added in the LEAP advisory. “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.”

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