by David Downs
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske ended the decades-long practice of calling federal drug prohibition efforts a 'War on Drugs' in 2009, but the war's funding continues at pre-Obama levels.
According to the leaked draft of the Executive Branch's National Drug Control Strategy for 2010-2011, President Obama will spend about $15 billion a year on drug prohibition, in the same ballpark as his predecessor George W. Bush who spent at least $13 billion in 2007.
Prohibition reformer Russ Jones says comparing federal budgets year over year is like comparing apples to oranges, though, because different administrations measure expenditures different ways. Federal budgets do not include state and local prohibition costs, which could bring annual expenditures to an estimated $70 billion per year.
This year, the Executive Office will spend its biggest chunks of money on the Drug Enforcement Administration ($2.4 billion), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ($2.6 billion).
Though funding has stayed the same, Obama drastically demoted the position of Drug Czar from a cabinet level position to one that reports to an aide of Vice President Joe Biden.
Drug Czar staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy recently leaked to Newsweek that the Drug Czar cannot get on the calendars of the President or the Vice President to announce the strategy.
“Critics are raising questions about whether Kerlikowske's office—with a staff of about 100 and a budget of $400 million—still serves a vital function. Created by Congress at the height of the drug war in 1988, the office has, at times, been led by formidable figures like Bill Bennett and Barry McCaffrey. Kerlikowske, who is barely on the public radar, disputes accounts that he's frustrated and lacks access. As for funding constraints, he says, "We couldn't have picked a more difficult economic time." But, he adds, "we're beginning to move this thing forward."
The strategy also hints at more needle exchanges to cut the spread of AIDS, reforming the ineffective D.A.R.E. program, and reviewing federal laws that "impede recovery," like the one that revokes financial aid for students who get a marijuana infraction.