White House says the war is working – the war on drugs
The White House needs to address the costly war on drugs, says a high-profile panel that includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. But the Obama administration says the fight against illegal drug use is working, and it wants more than $26 billion in 2012 to continue the battle.
"We cannot have one recipe. It’s not so easy to say, 'Stop the war on drugs and let’s legalize'; it’s more complicated than that," former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, chairman of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said Thursday at a news conference in New York. "Between prohibition and legalization there is an enormous variety of solutions in between."
"The U.S. needs to open a debate," former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, a member of the panel, told Times reporters. "When you have 40 years of a policy that is not bringing results, you have to ask if it's time to change it."
The commission, which also includes former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and British billionaire Richard Branson, prepared a report that recommends governments attempt creative ways of legally regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a way to stymie profits from gangs and cartels.
The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy quickly sent out a statement claiming the war on drugs is working.
"Drug use in America is half of what it was 30 years ago, cocaine production in Colombia has dropped by almost two-thirds, and we’re successfully diverting thousands of nonviolent offenders into treatment instead of jail by supporting alternatives to incarceration," said Rafael Lemaitre, communications director of the White House drug policy office.
Branson disagreed. "The war on drugs has increased drug usage, it’s filled our jails, it’s cost millions of taxpayer dollars and it’s fueled organized crime," Branson argued Thursday in New York. "It’s estimated that over $1 trillion has been spent on fighting this unwinnable battle."
Though other programs have been cut and/or trimmed, the Obama administration has asked for money for the war on drugs to be increased. In its 2012 budget, the White House has requested $1.7 billion for drug prevention programs, a 7.9% increase from the previous year, which would bring the total 2012 national drug control budget to $26.2 billion.
In 2009, during an online town hall meeting, Obama addressed a popular question regarding the legalization of marijuana. He kept his response short and not-so-sweet for some.
"There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation," the president said to laughter from the crowd. "And I don't know what this says about the online audience.
"The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy," Obama said.
That was a reversal from what candidate Obama said in 2004, when he called the war on drugs "an utter failure," and although he did not believe marijuana should be legalized, he thought it should be decriminalized.
Of all the 2012 presidential hopefuls, the only major candidate who favors the end of the drug war is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
-- Tony Pierce
Photo: Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy at a news conference in New York on Thursday.
Credit: Stan Honda / AFP-Getty Images