Drug War

Trump's Homeland Security Pick Shares His Simpleminded Faith in Drug Interdiction

John F. Kelly thinks the war on drugs is a failure because we do not spend enough on it.


Senate Armed Services Committee

Like Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, the man he wants to run the Department of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly, is an old-fashioned drug warrior who is alarmed by the ongoing collapse of marijuana prohibition. But the secretary of homeland security, unlike the attorney general, does not have much power to interfere with state marijuana laws. And unlike Sessions' complaints about the Obama administration's toleration of marijuana legalization, which sit uneasily with Trump's commitment to respect state decisions in that area, Kelly's views on drug interdiction are perfectly consistent with the president-elect's simpleminded faith in the government's power to stop arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants from crossing the border.

"Kelly is a big-time drug war zealot," says Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance's national affairs office. "He is a true believer in the drug war, and it's incredibly worrying that he could now head up Homeland Security."

The Department of Homeland Security includes Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, all of which play a direct or indirect role in the war on drugs. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general with an unrealistic notion of what can be accomplished by ships, aircraft, and men in uniform, is well-qualified to oversee these doomed antidrug activities, which apply military logic to a project that has nothing to do with foreign aggression or national defense.

As head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command for three years, Kelly witnessed the failure of drug interdiction and concluded that more interdiction was the answer. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2014, he complained that budget cuts had forced him to dial back drug interdiction in the Caribbean. "Because of asset shortfalls, we're unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," Kelly said. "I simply sit and watch it go by." Later that day he told reporters, "Without assets, certain things will happen. Much larger amounts of drugs will flow up from Latin America."

Kelly apparently thinks interdiction reduces the total amount of drugs reaching the United States. But that is not how interdiction works, to the extent that it works at all. Given all the places where drugs can be produced and all the ways they can be transported to people who want them, the most that drug warriors can hope to accomplish is to impose costs on traffickers that are high enough to raise retail prices, thereby discouraging consumption.

How has that been going? "With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply," a 2013 study published by BMJ Open concluded, "illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing."

The basic problem is that drugs acquire most of their value after they get to the country where they will be consumed, so seizing them en route has little impact on the cost to consumers. If Kelly had gotten the resources he wanted and increased interceptions of "suspected maritime drug smuggling," there is little reason to think the upshot would have been less drug use. The economics of drug prohibition mean there will always be more than enough smuggling to compensate for whatever fraction drug warriors manage to intercept.

Kelly thinks a determined government can overcome economics. He estimated that federal employees managed to seize 20 percent of the drugs moving toward the United States and implied that the share would be bigger if only he had a bigger budget. But if traffickers treat seizures as a cost of doing business and respond by boosting shipments, the percentage seized may stay exactly the same even as the amount seized rises. And since more seizures do not necessarily translate into noticeably higher retail prices, there is no reason to expect consumption will be reduced, which is supposed to be the ultimate goal.

Trump's understanding of drug interdiction is smilar to Kelly's. "I'm going to create borders," he promised in a campaign video. "No drugs are coming in. We're gonna build a wall. You know what I'm talking about. You have confidence in me. Believe me, I will solve the problem." Kelly, who shares the delusion that drug prohibition has been failing for more than a century simply because the government has not tried hard enough to enforce it, is a natural choice to guard Trump's magical wall.


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  1. If you couldn’t get the leader of the Choom Gang to rein in drug warriors, you can’t think Trump was going to do any better. Authoritarians, like central planners, rarely give up an opportunity for greater law enforcement involvement in our day to day lives.

    1. Who knows, Trump could be going for maximum troll. They might ramp up enforcement so that they can legalize and tax. Keeps prices high for the granting of licenses and Trump seems to be all for home grown business so why not simply extend that to drugs as well.

    2. Drug laws are more liberalized than they’ve been in a century at the state level and enforcement has been as lax as ever at the federal level, the latter thanks to Obama. All indications are that Trump intends to restart federal enforcement. Or do you think that falsely equating everything makes you smart? What are you, a pundit?

    3. I saw a Trump interview (circa 1994 I think) in which he tore into the Drug War with an articulate defense as to the futility of continuing prohibition. It was detailed and reasoned enough that it is not a position that someone could later claim to have “evolved” on without looking stupid or paid off.

      I was unable to find it anywhere to link to.

      1. Er, uh here is a link about it….not the actual video.


        During a luncheon hosted by the Miami Herald in April 1990, Trump slammed U.S. drug enforcement policy as “a joke,” and argued that tax dollars from a legalized, regulated narcotics industry could be spent on programs educating Americans about the dangers of drugs and addiction.

        “We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” he said, rightly so, to the crowd of 700 people. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”

        Trump was inspired to weigh in on the drug war partly due to the fact that “South Florida has such a huge problem with drugs,” he said. During the Miami Herald luncheon, he blamed America’s drug problems on politicians who “don’t have any guts” to address the issue.

  2. Trump should know better than most that when someone really, really wants something they usually find a way to get it. And a significant portion of Americans really, really want drugs, just like a small portion of Central Americans really, really want to get into the US. When a politician fails to do something they promised they usually take one of two paths. They either claim they succeeded despite the evidence or they blame something else for the failure. When Trump fails to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking which path will he take? Both?

    1. Let’s give Duterte a fair chance – maybe widespread execution is the solution.

      1. Let’s give Duterte a fair chance

        He’s just misunderstood, his intentions are good.

        1. Animal.

      2. maybe widespread execution is the solution

        This is America, we are more compassionate than that.

        Anyone convicted of a drug crime, their children, their parents, their grandparents, their aunts, their uncles, their nieces and nephews will undergo forced sterilization so the drug addiction gene can be eliminated.

  3. “He is true believer in the drug war, and it’s incredibly worrying that he could now head up Homeland Security.”

    The guy sounds like a douchenozzle. Real talk, though: throw a rock and you’ll probably hit a “true believer in the drug war.” Good chance that the person you hit is also an authoritarian. Congress will probably confirm anyone if that’s the only objection anyone has to their nomination.

    It’s just apparently how we roll in America. Colorado and Washington have been burning, there’s been blood in the streets, it’s absolute bedlam. Why are all these other states legalizing weed with all that going on? And you should see Amesterdam. It’s been an apocalyptic wasteland a la Mad Max.

    1. And then there’s that drug hellhole called Portugal where it’s all legal.

      What??? Wait!!! Those numbers can’t be right. Somebody must have switched positive and negative signs. The place has *GOT* to be falling apart with drugged out stoners on every sidewalk and alleys full of bodies.

  4. And since more seizures do not necessarily translate into noticeably higher retail prices, there is no reason to expect consumption will be reduced, which is supposed to be the ultimate goal.

    And that, as we know, is not the real ultimate goal of the War on Some Drugs. It’s all about the expansion of power over people, for no reason other than power. Boot, meet face, forever.

  5. I was in the military when Reagan started drug testing. The main result was that the best sailors didn’t reenlist or got a BCD. Success?

    1. Employment drug testing is an absolute failure. Big, traditional industries are having huge recruitment issues as 30-50% of the top candidates are unavailable due to marijuana usage. I think there is a very strong case that this is why STEM jobs have extremely low unemployment while at the same time a very limited US work pool. the kids are going into jobs where drug testing never took hold…..service, marketing, sales, business, and the newer Google/Apple/Facebook tech industries and avoiding Engineering, etc because the vast majority of the companies conduct entrant and random drug testing.

    2. Yep all the best sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines left for good once Reagan instituted those pesky random drug tests….have we even won a war since then?

  6. John F. Kelly , locate in the US Constitution where the government has the authority to control my body and to arrest and put me in gaol for putting something into my own body that is not government approved.

    Sir, if you cannot locate such text, you should resign in disgrace.

    1. Are you saying that you’ve never crossed state lines?

      1. State lines are imaginary

  7. drug prohibition has been failing for more than a century simply because the government has not tried hard enough to enforce it

    Hey, they’ll get around to destroying the 3A as soon as they can.

    1. “drug prohibition has been failing for more than a century simply because the government has not tried hard enough to enforce it” Actually, that is completely accurate. The “war on drugs” is not and never was an actual effort to enforce drug prohibition. Perhaps that was the idea, but it eventually became a massive money funneling effort into a pseudo enforcement regime.

  8. Eh. Not good, but at least the proggies will wake up and fight it, not because the drug war is bad, but because Trump wants it.

    Don’t know how it will affect states loosening of pot laws, but I suspect a lot of Republicans will hear from their constituents and join Dems in loosening things more, and both will use Federalism as their excuse.

    1. I really hope this turns out to be the case. I don’t want the Trump hangover! I want to continue to be buzzed on proggy tears!

      1. I keep reminding myself that Hillary would have been worse. She’s have picked another eco warrior for EPA, stooges all over, and the drug war picks might not be quite as bad, but they’d bo close enough as makes no practical difference.

        1. Why would you think Hitlery’s pics would’ve been even incrementally better?

  9. I bet that he also thinks that we should be forced at gunpoint to pay for this interdiction. Nothing wrong with that because…?

  10. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    – John Erhlichman, Nixon’s Chief of Domestic Policy

    There is the birth of the war on drugs. A political weapon. It has since devolved into an industry of theft, courts, jails, and rehab mills. It’s just about the money now. Looking at what Trump has said in the past he understands that but these picks are horrible with regards to the WOD, which is really just a war on the American people.

    1. Fake quote. Marijuana was actually “less criminalized” after Nixon.

  11. Honestly, who would you get to run DHS? Someone who thinks stopping things at the border is futile? It’s part & parcel of the job that it be filled by someone who thinks it worthwhile to put effort into interdiction, since guarding the borders is such a big part of the Dept.’s mission. So this is like complaining that the Chef of Vegetarian Meals isn’t putting meat on the table.

    1. “Honestly, who would you get to run DHS?”

      I’m going to say the number one answer is: NOBODY!! DHS needs to be shit-canned.

      1. Correct answer.

        1. But Congress created it, so the prez can’t unmake it.

    2. In an ideal world, someone like Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec would be the heads of these alphabet soup agencies and they would never get anything done.

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  13. BMJ Open concluded, “illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.”

    What illegal drugs need is an Obamacare-type plan. Then they’ll explode in price followed by systemic shortages. Mexi ditchweed will be hundreds per gram when you can find it, the new epi pen if you will.

  14. And all of this still ignores the real drug problem in the US, legal prescription drugs that are resold on the black market. And these are drugs that are causing the vast majority of deaths. So how does the moron in a monkey suit think he can curtail the resale of legal drugs? And then I won’t even get into the use of drugs within our own military. Granted it was a number of years ago, but after the military implemented zero-tolerance, but my ship conducted a ship wide drug test. Approximately 25% of our ship tested positive for marijuana. It was such a large number, they just swept it under the rug (as the military is wont to do). As I recall, those 200+ sailors received like 20 hours of EMI (extra military instruction) as a punishment. And how I wasn’t one of them still baffles me.

    1. So how does the moron in a monkey suit think he can curtail the resale of legal drugs? do you mean the current one? because he has allowed this travesty to occur across the country.

      The solution to prescription opiate abuse is incredible easy to fix. Put a massive tax on prescription opiates that is 100% reimbursable by insurance.
      Doctor shopping allows people to get multiple prescriptions, pay out of pocket for each, then resell on the market for a profit. If you increase the cost of the opiates beyond what the black market can sustain, the usage will dry up to a trickle. What’s fuelling the opiate scourge is the low relative cost to other forms of escapism. Increase the cost and people will avoid opiates in favor of less destructive drugs like pot or frankly, cocaine.
      The prescription fulfillment industry is already set up to manage far more expensive meds and have extensive infrastructure to track usage and reimbursed for those on their plans. Most of them offer mail-order delivery so those in need of pain management will be hardly impacted at all.

      1. So you want to drive the users to street drugs of questionable quality?

        1. people are free to be stupid.

          I am free to question and petition that the tax subsidized pharma industry be held to answer for essentially pushing pills on my friends and neighbors. Big Pharma is fueling the massive opiate addition problem. It’s appalling when it is easy to fix. Crony capitalism at its worst.

      2. We’re already being impacted in a big way. You can’t even find a regular doctor who will prescribe any sort of pain medication for more than a couple of days after an injury or surgery.

        You have to go to a pain specialist, each and every month and they can’t write a prescription for more than a month’s worth. If you’re broke, you simply can’t afford those kinds of medical bills when you already can’t work because of the pain.

  15. Thanks to all who voted for Trump and Johnson. You’ve just put a den of rabid fascists in power. Nice one.

    1. you’re welcome. You can thank me later when you eventually realize what an cthulu-esc nightmare Hillary would have been.

      1. You may be right. I’m not sure which would have been worse. Time will tell.

    2. You know, if all the assholes that voted for Trump had voted for Johnson, he would have won the electoral college AND the popular vote (if my math is correct). And Johnson basically ran as a moderate Republican so all those NeverTrump people don’t even have an excuse for not doing so.

  16. meh….Trump may suck on this.

    but…it can’t be any worse than what we saw under Obama-the-hypocrite.

    I frankly don’t have an issue with a real “war on drugs” that focuses on the pipeline, not the users and communities.

    Crack down on the pharma pill farms that are selling an order of magnitude more opiates than are needed fuelling a massive growth in opiate addiction that is destroying communities across the country. Whose bright idea was it to allow big pharma to make a fortune hawking opiates??? Was this the kickback for Obamacare?
    Crack down on the cartels and interdiction their pipeline into the US with improved border security. You don’t need to stop the flow…just increase the cost of business and help Mexico take back control of the northern areas. No one benefits by allowing the cartels to funnel drugs into the US, least of all the Mexican immigrants. 9/10s of the issues around illegal immigration and crime is traced back to the cartels and their gang-associates.
    Decriminalize pot and take it off the class 1 list, opening the door to a massive home-grown industry making America great again.

    1. it can’t be any worse

      I always want to laugh when people say this. It can always get worse.

      Generally, when people say this, I say, “We could get hit by an asteroid.” In specific, we could have the death penalty, I suppose. I don’t think it’s likely to get worse, but it’s always possible.

    2. There are already prod’n quotas on schedule 2N drugs, and in recent years there have been regional shortages of them within the USA. Narcotic analgesics are a proven technology that people need. It’d be worth it even if for every pain patient there were 1,000 people using them just to get dopey.

      1. There have only been shortages because of the massive abuse, inhibiting those that need it from getting it.

        “It’d be worth it even if for every pain patient there were 1,000 people using them just to get dopey.” This is a silly strawman. There are a number of options to inhibit the market for opiate abuse, while having no negative effect on those who need it for pain.

  17. There’s 3 ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, and the John Kelly way!

    Isn’t the wrong way?

    Yes, but FASTER!

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  19. A close advisor of Trump is Peter Thiel. Peter is investing in Marley brand.


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  22. Is General Kelly really not aware of government approved drug running?

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