Obama drug policy: same as it ever was

A marijuana plant (Pic by LancerenoK, via Fotopedia)

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued its 2012 strategy Tuesday; opponents insist it maintains the same failed policies of prior administrations.

The 2012 strategy states that “we will continue to pursue a balanced approach that brings all sectors of society together in a national effort to improve public health and safety.” That approach includes what the Office calls “community-based programs and early intervention in health care settings,” and “we will continue to build on the Administration’s progress in reforming the justice system.”

“We will continue to counter drug production and trafficking within the United States and will implement new strategies to secure our borders against illicit drug flows,” the strategy adds (.pdf).

According to the Office, “the requested Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 National Drug Control Budget demonstrates commitment to these goals, requesting $25.6 billion to reduce drug use and its consequences in the United States. This represents an increase of $415.3 million (1.6%) over the FY 2012 enacted level of $25.2 billion.”

Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote Tuesday that

this strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies. While the rhetoric is new – reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure – the substance of the actual policies is the same. In reality, the administration is prioritizing low-level drug arrests, trampling on state medical marijuana laws, and expanding supply-side interdiction approaches – while not doing enough to actually reduce the harms of drug addiction and misuse, such as the escalating overdose epidemic.

Jeffrey Miron — a libertarian, a senior fellow at the Cato Insitute and a senior lecturer at Harvard — laid out in a 2010 report the cost of drug enforcement at the state and federal and the economic impact legalization would have on the U.S. economy.

According to the report (.pdf) in 2008 the total “state level expenditures attributable to drug prohibition” was $25.6 billion. Florida alone spent $1.4 billion, the report indicates. The estimated federal expenditure for drug prohibition enforcement in 2008 was $17.1 billion.

Miron wrote that

drug legalization would reduce government expenditure about $41.3 billion annually. Roughly $25.7 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, and roughly $15.6 billion to the federal government. About $8.7 billion of the savings would result from legalization of marijuana, $20 billion from legalization of cocaine and heroin, and $12.6 billion from legalization of all other drugs.

“Legalization would also generate tax revenue of roughly $46.7 billion annually if drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco,” Miron wrote. “About $8.7 billion of this revenue would result from legalization of marijuana, $32.6 billion from legalization of cocaine and heroin, and $5.5 billion from legalization of all other drugs.”

Tom Angell, media relations director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, tells The Florida Independent that the war on drugs has ”clearly failed.”

“We’ve been doing this for a very long time, decades and decades,” he says. “Addiction hasn’t gone down. Drug market violence has gone up. We’ve spent so much money, saddled people with criminal records. What metrics of success are [U.S. government officials] waiting for? When do they think we’re going to acheive some good results with this policy?”

Former presidents Ernetsto Cedillo (Mexico), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) and Cesar Gaviria (Colombia) have called for more humane and efficient drug policies. Several Latin American presidents called for a conversation about the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs during the sixth Summit of the Americas, which took place last weekend in Cartagena, Colombia.

Semana, a Colombian weekly news magazine, wrote early this week that “the Organization of American States was told by the sixth Summit to initiate a study to review the current war on drugs,” but it added that according to Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos, “this was not a debate about legalization.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, who also attended the Summit, told Semana

the battle is against criminals who sell [illegal] drugs. If tomorrow they don’t sell drugs they’ll do something else. They’re criminals. People who are willing to kill and steal their whole life. There will always be a need to combat criminals.

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