Here’s How Obama Plans to Spend $25 Billion on the War on Drugs

The president is phasing in a new approach, but he’s doing it slowly.

A man calling himself Henry Hemp inhales marijuana using a vaporizer pen at HempCon medical marijuana show, May 24, 2013 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered for the three-day event for exhibits of medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives, evaluation services, legal services and equipment and accessories. Under California state law, people suffering from chronic diseases have the right to grow, buy and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. In 2003 the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Patrick Reis and Sophie Novack
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Patrick Reis and Sophie Novack
March 24, 2014, 6:15 p.m.

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.

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