The National Drug Control Strategy released today by President Obama and R. Gil Kerlikowkse, the Director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), marks a modest but real improvement over past ONDCP strategies, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The new Strategy at least opens the door to the serious debate over drug policy that has been stifled for decades by the din of "drug war" zealotry.
"Given ONDCP's unfortunate history as a ‘drug war' cheerleader, the Obama administration's new Strategy is certainly a step forward," said WOLA Senior Associate John Walsh. "The challenge will be to bring the policy into line with the new rhetoric."
"Few Americans – and even fewer Latin Americans – would consider the decades-long ‘drug war' to have been a success," continued Walsh, "and people across the Americas are eager for more effective and humane approaches."
For most of its history, ONDCP has promoted a politically-driven "drug warrior" agenda at odds with real-world results and hostile to even the suggestion that there might be better ways to manage our drug problems and reduce the damage caused by our drug policies.
"The reality is that the United States doesn't simply have drug problems, we have a drug policy problem – and for a long time ONDCP has been a big part of that problem," according to Walsh.
"The new Strategy is by no means a clean break with that past, but the emphasis on addressing the consequences of drug use through evidence-based strategies provides hope for a more realistic and constructive policy debate going forward."
To be sure, the new Strategy's rhetorical emphasis on evidence-based approaches is belied by the accompanying drug control budget, which continues to dedicate the lion's share of federal spending to domestic and overseas enforcement activities for which there is scant, if any, evidence of success in achieving their basic aim of suppressing illicit drug availability.
Moreover – in an unwelcome hangover from Bush Administration policy – the new budget fails to present the true scope of the U.S. drug enforcement effort, by omitting more than $6 billion in spending on prosecution and incarceration.
"Time will tell whether the Obama administration's promising new rhetoric focused on drugs as a public health challenge will be matched by durable shifts in policy," said Walsh, "but the deliberate decision to turn down the drug war propaganda is important in itself."
Kristel Mucino, WOLA's Communications Coordinator
[email protected] or 617-584-1713