President Obama promised to change the way the U.S. fights its perpetual war on drugs, and although he's making progress, the president's spending record shows his approach is being adjusted—not revolutionized.
Obama's vision for attacking illegal drugs hinged on a change in the way the government thinks about the drug "problem": Instead of treating drugs like a criminal epidemic to be stamped out, the president is pushing his administration to address drugs as a health epidemic to be treated.
But since the White House launched its National Drug Control Strategy in 2010, the government's spending record shows incremental—not dramatic—changes in how the U.S. goes after the use of illegal drugs.
In his 2015 budget request, Obama is asking Congress for $25.4 billion, $200 million more than the government plans to spend in fiscal 2014.
In Obama's 2015 plan, about 43 cents of each dollar will be spent on programs aimed at reducing Americans' demand for drugs, a part of of the president's health strategy—what the administration officially calls drug "demand reduction."
The rest of the funding—about 57 cents of each dollar, or a total of $14.4 billion—will be spent on "supply reduction," federal efforts to root out drug producers and sellers. That includes $9.2 billion to support domestic law enforcement's anti-drug actions.
The 2015 plan, if approved by Congress, would represent a slightly larger step in what has been a slow move toward increasing efforts to deal with the demand side.
In 2010, the government spent 37 percent of its anti-drug funds on the demand side. That number held steady at 37.5 percent in 2011 and 2012, before jumping to 38.5 percent in 2013. This year, Congress has earmarked 40.1 percent of the drug war's funding for demand-side programs, and the 2015 budget would allocate a full 43.1 percent.
But although the ratio is shifting, Obama still intends to spend the bulk of U.S. drug war money on efforts to block producers and dealers. His plan to spend a total of $14.4 billion attacking the supply side is $2.5 billion more than would be spent on the demand side.
The $25 billion in funding is spread across at least 10 different agencies, with the bulk of it going to the Health and Human Services Department ($8.7 billion), Justice Department ($7.8 billion) and Homeland Security Department ($4.1 billion).
Meanwhile, direct spending on the war on drugs continues to climb. In 2010, when Obama launched his new anti-drug approach, the country spent $24.6 billion on anti-drug programs. If Obama gets his way, in 2015 it will spend that—plus $740 million more.
This article appears in the March 25, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.