Feds Don't Walk Their Talk in Drug Control Budget

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has released its proposed budget through fiscal year 2012. It requests $26.2 billion to “reduce drug use and its consequences” in the United States, representing an increase of $322.6 million, or 1.2%, over the 2010 budget. Once again, ONDCP's rhetoric emphasizes the importance of treatment and prevention while its budget proposes spending the majority of drug control money on conventional law enforcement programs. Approximately 60% of the budget goes to law enforcement and only 40% to treatment and prevention.

Where is this money actually going? The House of Representatives is currently proposing large cuts to President Obama’s budget in a wide range of programs. So it seems strange that the House and the President want to continue prioritizing $9.1 billion on domestic law enforcement related to drug control and $3.7 billion on interdiction, with a plan to increase those amounts in 2012 by $400 million and nearly $195 million respectively. 

ONDCP released a statement praising the budget’s increases in treatment and prevention funding. This is accurate, in that (as a percentage of the overall budget) treatment funding in 2011 is increased by 0.6% and prevention is increased by 0.2%. Yet this is partially reversed in the next year - treatment is returned to 2010 levels in ONDCP’s 2012 budget projections. Meanwhile funding for domestic law enforcement is approaching $10 billion per year. By 2012 spending on domestic law enforcement alone will exceed spending on treatment by $500 million (see Table below).

And it’s clear over time what ONDCP’s priorities really are. Ten years ago, the budget for domestic law enforcement was $2.93 billion, whereas today it’s $9.09 billion. The amount spent on treatment has gone up as well, but the amount for drug prevention is exactly the same as it was ten years ago.

Federal Drug Control Spending by Functions (in $ billions) – 2001-2002 vs. 2011-2012



FY 2001 – Final

FY 2002 - Final

FY 2011 - CR

FY 2012 - Requested

Domestic Law Enforcement

























ONDCP's proposal to continue spending more on law enforcement than treatment and prevention is inconsistent with Director Kerlikowske's declaration that drug abuse is a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem. And it perpetuates the indefensible policy of spending obscene amounts of money on enforcement that has not proven effective. 

Is spending billions of dollars criminalizing drugs effective?  

The number of people arrested for drug crimes each year has approximately tripled since the early 1980's. In 2009, 1,663,582 were arrested for drug crimes (46% of the arrests for marijuana possession alone). Meanwhile, it's estimated that 38 million people aged 12 and older used an illicit drug in the U.S. in 2009, that's roughly 15% of the population. As the graph below illustrates, arresting millions of people each year for drug crimes, does little to curb overall drug use.

In that time, the amount we spend on domestic law enforcement has grown nearly 300%, demonstrating that more money towards enforcement has little effect on drug use. In fact, despite the increases in funds going to enforcement, marijuana is still perceived as extremely easy to obtain. In 2010, 82% of high school seniors think marijuana is easy to obtain – a decrease in perception of only 2% in 20 years.

There has to be a more useful way to spend the $9.5 billion ONDCP wants to spend on domestic law enforcement in 2012. Why continue to pay so much for drug enforcement that has had little effect on the amount of drug users in the country? Why not use the billions we spend on enforcement to plug other holes in our nation’s troubled budget and focus our efforts on drug prevention and treatment?  Isn’t it time we admit how futile our punitive law enforcement approaches to the drug problem have been?

Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health (https://nsduhweb.rti.org/); FBI Uniform Crime Reports (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr