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1.) The Obama administration and its supporters claim to be spending more on prevention than enforcement—they aren't.
On May 1, the Center for American Progress, which works closely with the Obama administration, hosted Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske to speak about Obama's 2012 National Drug Control Strategy. In her opening remarks, CAP President Neena Tanden said, "We welcome the...shifts in funding that have seen more money spent in the last three years on drug education and treatment than on law enforcement."
That shift, Obama supporters claim, is the first of its kind, and a strong indicator that Obama is serious about reforming (though not ending) the war on drugs. It's such an important talking point, in fact, that Kerlikowske, prominent leaders in the rehab community (beneficiaries, all), and mainstream journalists have all repeated it.
But is it true? Not even a little bit! John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America reviewed the Obama administration's 2012 strategy and concluded that while the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget allocated $10 billion for prevention and treatment and $9.3 billion for domestic enforcement, those two allocations don't tell the whole story.
"The federal government also spends billions of dollars each year on interdiction and overseas supply-reduction efforts," Walsh writes, "and state and local governments spend many billions more on drug law enforcement—especially incarceration—with the aim of constraining availability."
Furthermore, Walsh wrote, "Obama’s predecessor in the White House, George W. Bush, could have made the same claim during his second term. From FY2005-FY2008, federal spending on demand reduction exceeded spending on domestic drug enforcement by an average of $1.2 billion per year, based on figures provided in the budget document accompanying the new strategy."
In fact, when it comes down to it, Obama's drug war looks a lot like Bush's:
When federal spending on interdiction and international drug control programs are also taken into account, it is clear that “supply reduction” efforts continue to receive the bulk of federal drug-control dollars. Again based on the historical budget figures provided in the new strategy, in FY2008, under Bush, 58.8 percent ($13.236 billion) of the federal drug budget was allocated to supply reduction (domestic enforcement, interdiction, and international programs), compared to 41.2 percent ($9.264 billion) allocated to demand reduction (treatment and prevention). Obama’s FY2013 request is $3.1 billion larger than Bush’s FY2008 budget, but shows an identical breakdown, with 58.8 percent ($15.062 billion) for supply reduction and 41.2 percent ($10.538 billion) for demand reduction.
Obama’s FY2013 strategy includes more than $5.6 billion for interdiction and overseas supply-control efforts, which even when adjusting for inflation is 6 percent more than Bush’s FY2008 spending on interdiction and overseas efforts.
Keep those figures in mind when Kerlikowske, Obama, or the administration's supporters claim Obama has radically changed drug policy.
Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter.