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Obama grows the drug war, with enforcement a clear priority

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It was not long ago when President Barack Obama’s new drug czar, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, swept into Washington, D.C. and declared the “drug war” a public policy relic.

The Obama administration, he said, would move toward handling drug addiction as a medical problem, moving away from the brash enforcement tactics that hallmarked prior administrations.

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“We’re not at war with people in this country,” Kerlikowske told The Wall Street Journal in May.

However, if the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) budget for fiscal year 2011 is to be believed, Kerlikowske was full of hot air.

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

The president’s National Drug Control Budget also continues the Bush administration’s public relations tactic of obscuring the costs of prosecuting and imprisoning drug offenders. “Enron style accounting,” is how drug policy reform advocate Kevin Zeese described it, writing for Alternet in 2002.

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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.

In short, the Obama administration’s appropriations for treating drug addiction are just short of half that dedicated to prosecuting the war.

A ONDCP press release describes these figures as “balanced.”

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“The new budget proposal demonstrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to a balanced and comprehensive drug strategy,” Kerlikowske added, in the advisory. “In a time of tight budgets and fiscal restraint, these new investments are targeted at reducing Americans’ drug use and the substantial costs associated with the health and social consequences of drug abuse.”

“It sure was an encouraging signal when Drug Czar Kerlikowske declared that the ‘war on drugs’ was over shortly after he took the job last year,” commented Tom Angel, spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “But until the budget numbers match up with rhetoric, it looks like the war is still being waged.”


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