Obama's Drug Strategy All Talk, No Walk

05/13/2010 12:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Barack Obama's Office of National Drug Control Policy released its National Strategy for Drug Control this week. While the strategy was spun by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske as one focusing on prevention and treatment over enforcement and criminal prosecutions, the amount of money spent proportionally is the same as during the Bush Administration. Meet the new boss...

The strategy devotes 64 percent of the budget to traditional supply reduction strategies like enforcement and interdiction while reserving only 36 percent for demand reduction approaches like treatment and prevention. And, due to accounting changes made under the Bush administration and maintained by Obama, the budget ratio doesn't even take into account some costs of the "war on drugs" such as incarceration.

That's from the good folks at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of cops, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials speaking out for sensible drug laws. They were quick to jump on the Obama strategy as "just like the old 'drug war' approach."

"The drug czar is saying all the right things about ending the 'war on drugs' and enacting a long-overdue balanced strategy focused on a public health approach,"  said former Balitmore police officer and incoming LEAP leader Neil Franklin. "Unfortunately the reality of the budget numbers doesn't match up to the rhetoric."

Equally disconcerting about the Obama drug strategy is its fierce opposition to marijuana legalization. From the strategy document (PDF):

We have many proven methods for reducing the demand for drugs. Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use. Diagnostic, laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological studies clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects, and legalization would only exacerbate these problems.

Forgetting the fact that alcohol and prescription drugs also have many of those "negative effects," there's little evidence to support the claim that prohibition reduces availability or demand. Indeed, if marijuana were controlled and regulated, it would be significantly more difficult for minors to obtain marijuana than it is under prohibition, where almost anyone can get it off the street or in their schools.

Obama has repeatedly expressed his opposition to legalization, while Drug Czar Kerlikowske has been more sympathetic to marijuana. As police chief of Seattle, Kerlikowske said that arrests for personal marijuana use are "not a priority." Earlier this year, Kerlikowske declined to speculate on the federal government's response if a state such as California were to legalize marijuana.

While not surprising, the administration's firm opposition to legalization is indicative of the government's backwards strategy to combating the Mexican drug cartels and the harder drugs they peddle -- a key focus of the rest of the continued not-war on drugs.

The National Drug Control Strategy calls for mafia-like prosecutions of the Mexican cartels, in addition to increased enforcement targeting the cartels' grow operations in national parks. But the main emphasis against the cartels seems to be a focus on disrupting the cartel leadership and seizing drugs, guns, and money. The reality of the situation though means that strategy is like whack-a-mole. Even by disrupting the leadership and seizing resources, those holes will be filled in a matter of time.

The FBI admits that "marijuana is the top revenue generator for Mexican cartels," allowing the violent border gangs to finance their operations for guns, cocaine, heroin, and other hard substances. They call it "a cash crop that finances corruption and the carnage of violence year after year."

It's clear that if the administration really wants to continue -- and win -- a War on Drugs, the fastest, cleanest, best way to do so is to cut off the cartels' bloodstream by legalizing marijuana. But of course, that's just too easy. Cause drugs are bad, mmkay?