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Issue In Focus: Drug Control Budget

The White House has released its new budget request, and along with it the President's new drug control budget. This time around, the President is requesting $25,393,200,000 for drug control programs. Of that, $10,670,300,000, or 42 percent of the total – is designated as demand reduction spending. That means treatment, education, and prevention. The remaining 58 percent, or $14,722,900,000, is for supply reduction – law enforcement, interdiction, and international programs such as the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative.

This year's budget shows dramatic increases in the amounts requested for treatment and a dramatic decrease in the International segment. These changes are a big part of the reason that proposed spending for these two broad functional areas are closer to achieving equilibrium. As reformers, we have always argued that more support needed to be given to demand reduction programs, so this should be good news. And it would be, if it weren't for the details.

The proposed budget has a supply-reduction v demand-reduction ratio of 58/42. The proposed budget usually bears no resemblance to the enacted budget, all of which are different from the final budget numbers. In the fiscal year 2012 budget, for example, the President requested a total of $26,209,700,000 for drug control programs, with $10,664,800,000, or 40.7 percent – going to demand reduction.

The new budget report lists the final numbers for fiscal year 2012. In reality, drug control programs spent $24,497,200,000 that year. Of that, $9,187,400,000 – 37.5 percent – went to demand reduction, and the remaining $15,309,700,000 – 62.5 percent – went to supply reduction. In other words, the proposed numbers are only bargaining positions that are being staked out.

The same sort thing happened with fiscal year 2013. The original request was for $25,599,900,000, of which $10,538,200,000, or 41.2 percent – was for demand reduction. The new drug control budget report shows that the fiscal year 2013 annualized continuing resolution figures – basically the enacted budget – show a total of $24,536,400,000 in drug control spending in 2013, with $9,371,900,000, or 38.2 percent, going to demand reduction and $15,164,500,000, or 61.8 percent, going to supply reduction.

At least President Obama is being more honest about drug control spending than his predecessor. An accounting change early in the GW Bush administration made it look like drug control spending had been cut by several billion – particularly spending on the supply reduction side.

These new proposed figures could be a positive sign, but we have to wait and see whether the President is serious about making progressive change, and he still has to convince Congress to go along with it. Still, it's encouraging to think that being smart on drugs is a better move politically than merely acting tough.

For more information about the US drug control budget and other economic issues, check out the DWF Economics chapter.