White House Vows Drug Policy Shift

| Wed Apr. 14, 2010 10:38 AM EDT

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy zapped out a press release on Wednesday morning noting that its director, Gil Kerlikowske (aka the Drug Czar) was testifying before a House subcommittee that the Obama administration is implementing a "new direction in drug policy." From the release:

With drug use accounting for tens of billions of dollars per year in healthcare costs, and drug overdoses ranking second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death, the Nation “needs to discard the idea that enforcement alone can eliminate our Nation’s drug problem,” Director Kerlikowske said. “Only through a comprehensive and balanced approach – combining tough, but fair, enforcement with robust prevention and treatment efforts – will we be successful in stemming both the demand for and supply of illegal drugs in our country.

“The forthcoming National Drug Control Strategy calls for addressing our Nation’s enormous demand for drugs by scaling up our public health policy response, integrating treatment programs into mainstream medicine, and recognizing that effective drug policy requires engagement at the community level,” Director Kerlikowske said.

He also noted that ONDCP would continue to work to “break down the silos between the prevention, treatment, and law enforcement communities– and the greatest use must be made of the finite resources at our disposal.”

The statement also pointed out that Obama's 2011 budget request seeks a 6.5 percent boost in funding for drug prevention and treatment programs.

But this new direction will not be heading toward legalization. As its director was testifying, ONDCP's website featured an article by Harvard grad student Viridiana Rios that argues against legalization:

As the situation in Mexico and along U.S. border towns has become desperate, calls for legalization are intensifying. The city of El Paso, Texas, passed a resolution calling for studying the merits of legalization as a means to curb violence, and the Arizona Attorney General has also discussed the option of legalization in front of the US Congress. California is considering a measure in November's election.

Might legalization help the situation?  My view is likely no.  Any legalization attempt focuses on the marijuana markets which are not the core of the violence problem. It is highly valued drugs such as cocaine or heroin the ones which organized criminals are fighting for, it is these drugs that fund terrorist and criminal groups around the world.

Even in the unlikely scenario of an all-drugs liberalization, it is unrealistic to expect a significant diminishing of the influence of Mexican cartels.

The Obama administration is heeding the calls for drug reform when it comes to prevention, treatment, and harsh criminal enforcement. But with moves to legalize marijuana in California and elsewhere seemingly gaining momentum, the administration's reformers are not in sync with the reformers outside the government.