Drug War

How Can You Win the Future If You Don't Invest in Violence?


Last year I noted that the supposedly vital programs shielded from President Obama's domestic spending "freeze" included the drug control budget. That remains true this year, despite an increasingly dire fiscal outlook, although his proposed increase (PDF) has dropped from 3.4 percent to 1.2 percent. (In Washington, that's practically a cut.) Drug policy reformers complain that the federal government continues to spend about twice as much on enforcement as it does on "treatment and prevention." Since I have little faith that the latter sort of anti-drug boondoggle is more effective (or even less coercive) than the former kind, I tend to focus on the fact that the most demonstrably disastrous parts of the federal budget, including a program that Obama once called "an utter failure," continue to enjoy funding hikes during these supposedly straitened times. 

Still, you might think a president who describes himself as a "strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem" would do something to translate that thought into action, even if it involved nothing more than symbolic tinkering with the drug control budget. But in a recent interview with The Daily Caller's Mike Riggs, drug czar Gil "It's Not a War" Kerlikowske explains that the president's kinder, gentler perspective on drug use, which Obama says requires "shifting resources," doesn't really. "It's not always about the money," Kerlikowske says. Or as he put it in a December interview with The Nation, "rebalancing" drug policy "shouldn't be an either/or, to take away money from interdiction or some other part." Why reconsider your spending priorities when things are going so well?

Kerlikoswke likewise wriggles out of Riggs' opening question, in which he notes that, despite the drug czar's preference for nonmartial terminology, enforcement of drug prohibition sure looks like a war, what with all the armed, uniformed men bursting into people's homes in the middle of the night, shooting their pets, killing bystanders, and generally wreaking havoc. Kerlikowske's response:

Well, it might, but I guess the difference that I see is the level of violence in the United States and the training that law enforcement goes through. Whether they're dealing with an armed robbery or taking down a drug house, and given the number of officers who are shot and killed anymore, and the type of weaponry that is out on the streets, I don't think there's any way to approach it from a safety standpoint that wouldn't involve this.

In other words, police officers serving drug warrants would be risking their own lives if they stopped shooting old ladies, chasing ministers to death, and killing dachshunds. This justification reminds me of Radley Balko's remark that soldiers consider it an insult to describe such SWAT-related offenses as resulting from "militarization" of the police, because the military is more careful about protecting noncombatants. More fundamentally, it's the government that introduces violence into this situation by using force to stop people from getting high in arbitrarily proscribed ways. The more aggressively it pursues this policy, the more violence there will be. So here's my idea for "rebalancing" the drug control budget: eliminate the enforcement part.

I advocated ending the war on drugs as part of Reason's November forum on "How to Slash the State." Radley has much more on the subject of drug war brutality here and here.

NEXT: The End of the American Century

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  1. While I don’t think enforced treatment will be very effective, ibogaine shows a lot of promise in arresting (pun intended) withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opiate, coke & meth addicts.

    Unfortunately, you have to be able to go to Mexico or Canada, because (of course) it’s a Schedule I drug here in the US.

  2. Since I have little faith that the [enforced treatment & prevention] anti-drug boondoggle is more effective (or even less coercive) than [traditional law enforcement]…

    While this is all true, 4 weeks at what amounts to a minimum security prison is better than 4 years at a maximum security prison.

    1. Also, not unrelatedly, cops uselessly lecturing at middle schoolers about drugs is better than cops killing dogs and people.

      1. Bonus: occasionally, they shoot themselves in the foot while uselessly lecturing middle schoolers.

  3. Thread-jack, this was just on my local news:

    1. And it could be a gateway drug leading teens to real-world narcotics.

      Sigh – of course it could…

      Thanks for the link, Ivan 🙂

    2. Hey, you just wait until the first person ODs, then we’ll see who’s laughing.

  4. …soldiers consider it an insult to describe such SWAT-related offenses as resulting from “militarization” of the police, because the military is more careful about protecting noncombatants.

    That might be true for ground troops who are going house to house, but once they start dropping bombs (or even guarding checkpoints), the result isn’t so non-combatant friendly.

  5. Surprise, Obama is a self serving, hypocritical dick.

  6. Whip Inflation Now (WIN) was one reason Gerald Ford did NOT win.
    Will Win The Future do the same for Obama? Will historians label Obama the WTF President?

    1. We need WTF buttons with my logo.

  7. …his proposed increase (PDF) has dropped from 3.4 percent to 1.2 percent. (In Washington, that’s practically a cut.)

    By GAWD man, that is a postively draconian 70% cut!!! How can the DEA function under such fierce financial constraints?

    [bet I could sell that to your run of the mill journalist]


    Now, the other day We [TRIATHLON] explained to you how the different cars represents a different type of woman, the Cadillac Woman vs. the Nash RAMBLER woman, well, there’s also a third kind we left out, the Honda Civic, it’s great let me tell you:

    A Honda is like the [Yellow] woman, small trunk but tight, very reliable, not as flashy as the Cadillac no the Trunk isn’t quite as big but the engine is small and the seats tight [BEEP BEEP MY HORN!], but boy let me tell you, don’t let size fool you, very nice just like the Civic/Corolla/Camry, small, elegant, dependable, TIGHT TRUNK and will be reliable and look good even with high mileage [Age] yes that’s what it’s all about, really.


    1. How about Buick women?

    2. Nice attempt at a HERC spoof; but you forgot to use Caps Lock, and your sentences were too comprehensible. Not to mention your didn’t say anything about teh jooz.


    1. or should it be HERPULE DERPLON?


        1. As I opened the Box, I found within somewhat of Metal almost like to our Clocks, full of I know not what little Springs and imperceptible Engines. It was a Book indeed, but a strange and wonderful Book, that had neither Leaves nor Letters. In fine, it was a Book made wholly for the Ears and not the Eyes. So that when any body has a mind to read in it, he winds up the Machine with a great many little Springs: and he turns the hand to the Chapter he desires to hear, and straight, as from the Mouth of Man, or a Musical Instrument, proceed all the distinct and different Sounds, which the Lunar Grandees make use of for expressing their Thoughts, instead of Language. . . . This Present employed me about an hour, and then hanging them to my Ears, like a pair of Pendants, I went to walking.

  10. you might think a president who describes himself as a “strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem” would do something to translate that thought into action

    You might think so … if you were high enough!

  11. I have a trance music channel set up on Pandora. So should I worry about my door being knocked down in the middle of the night?

    1. That was supposed to be under Ivan’s comment above.

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