Today on the podcast, Stephen Kent and Lucy Steigerwald discuss the Office of Drug Control Policy and 2018 budget from the White House that shows a 95% cut to their budget. Is this cause for excitement if you want to see the drug war wound down? Lucy is reluctant to celebrate.
On Friday, news broke that Donald Trump’s 2018 budget would reportedly cut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by almost 95 percent. According to CNN, who got the draft themselves, this means the ONDCP would fall “from a $380 million budget to $24 million.”
Libertarians and other anti-prohibitionists should be careful not to celebrate too early. The drug war, like life, tends to find a way. The draft memo justifies these cuts mostly in terms of redundancy. And we will still have a DEA, Chris Christie’s shiny new anti-opioid task force, and myriad federal, state, and local drug laws. Drug warriors may be having a bad day, but they shouldn’t panic too much.
Once he was safely a lame duck, President Barack Obama let states set their own marijuana policies, pardoned or commuted thousands of prisoners’ sentences and talked more freely—and less hypocritically—about the need to end the war on drugs. In fact, his Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) concluded that Richard Nixon’s famous War on Drugs was now a relict by sending the wrong message in prioritizing punishment over treatment. (In reality, the war did continue, even if the phrase had been covered neatly with a tarp for a few years under the guise of “laboratories of democracy.“)
Now we’re in Donald Trump’s America, with Trump’s ODCP and Trump’s Department of Justice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions heads the latter and he’s expressed befuddlement that the American people aren’t cheering his musings on the prospect of kicking the drug war up a notch to prevent some imagined dystopian future of convenience-store marijuana sales. Unfortunately, POTUS’s supposed pick for drug czar, U.S. Representative Tom Marino, is likely to be just as bad as Sessions. A Republican from Pennsylvania, Marino’s voting record on the drug war makes him well-suited for this position in a Trump administration.
As the Washington Post reports, Marino seems to gung-ho on the “Let’s vaguely pretend this is about public health” front, a position that is all the rage on the right. For Marino, protecting public health may involve “hospital-slash-prisons.”
During a 2016 congressional hearing about heroin, Marino wrung his hands on drug abuse and mostly, how it affects children. His full quote, in context: “One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing nondealer, nonviolent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals. Once the person agrees to plead guilty to possession, he or she will be placed in an intensive treatment program until experts determine that they should be released under intense supervision. If this is accomplished, then the charges are dropped against that person. The charges are only filed to have an incentive for that person to enter the hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it.”
There once was a time when Donald Trump looked like he was going to be the presidential candidate to finally move the Republican Party away from senseless obsessions over culture war issues. He seldom discussed LGBT issues or the drug war on the campaign trail; his campaign message was almost entirely protectionist economics and building a border wall.
Then along came Jeff Sessions.
Trump won the GOP nomination as a very moderate candidate, socially speaking. He said Caitlyn Jenner could use whatever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower, he said he was “fine” with same-sex marriage and paid little attention to ramping up the war on drugs.
However, since taking office, it’s become clear that the social conservatives Trump has surrounded himself with are going to have a tremendous amount of pull with regard to where the administration goes on social issues.