Outside View: Drug War -- Another Enron?

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Apr 3, 2003.

  1. By Paul Armentano
    Source: United Press International

    Numbers never lie. Or do they? Sometimes it's just a matter of who's keeping the books. Take America's drug war.
    Last year, Congress earmarked nearly $19 billion -- nearly twice what it spent on military operations in Afghanistan -- to enforce U.S. drug laws. Of that total, two-thirds was to be used for law enforcement activities; the remaining one-third was to go toward drug treatment and education.

    Fast forward to this year, and the Bush administration now says it will only spend $11.2 billion fighting drugs -- of which almost half will be used to fund drug treatment and education programs. Is the era of a gentler, more fiscally streamlined drug policy upon us?

    Not a chance.

    Upon closer inspection, it's clear that this year's supposed belt-tightening and reprioritizing is only illusory. Thanks to new Enron-styled accounting tactics initiated by the White House, America's drug war looks a whole lot different than it used to -- at least on paper.

    As always, the Devil is in the details.

    In a little publicized announcement last year, officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy revealed that they had developed a "new methodology" for reporting the federal drug budget -- which had grown from less than $2 billion annually in 1982 to $18.8 billion last year.

    Under their new scheme, only funding for agencies involved in so-called "primary" drug war activities is now tabulated in the national anti-drug budget. As a result, more than two-thirds of the agencies included in past years' budgets are conspicuously missing from this year's financial totals!

    By far the largest and most startling financial manipulations are within the Department of Justice, which reports a reduction of more than $5.5 billion dollars in drug war related expenses between 2002 and 2003. Remarkably, the majority of costs removed are those associated with the incarceration and care of federal drug prisoners -- costs that, according to the Feds, are associated with the "secondary consequences" of the drug war and must no longer be tabulated in the federal drug budget.

    Other DOJ departments and activities related to drug law enforcement are also deceptively missing from this year's tally. For example, annual funding for INTERPOL, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Attorney's office are noticeably absent.

    In addition, millions of dollars in annual funding for additional agencies previously tabulated the drug war's budget, such as the Department of Education, have been reduced without explanation, while others -- including the Department of Transportation -- $594 million in 2002 -- Department of Interior -- $39 million and the Department of Agriculture -- $29 million -- have been expunged from the books all together.

    There is evidence that the Drug Czar's office is simultaneously inflating their expenditures on drug treatment by including hundreds of millions of dollars in alcohol treatment spending, which by law is specifically excluded from the ONDCP's scope of activities. As a result, the ONDCP can now claim that their budget allots nearly equal amounts on drug treatment as it does drug enforcement despite making no substantive spending changes.

    If you're searching for the motivation behind the Drug Czar's deceptive accounting, look no further than the polls. Surveys have consistently shown that the majority of Americans believe the drug war's current "do drugs, do time" approach to be ineffective, fiscally costly, and doomed to fail.

    When given the alternative, nearly seven out of 10 Americans say they support treatment for convicted drug users rather than incarceration. Rather than listen, the Feds are stealing a page from the playbook of Enron, Worldcom and others, and cooking their books.

    The only question now is: Who's going to report them to the SEC?

    Paul Armentano is a senior policy analyst for The NORML Foundation in Washington, D.C.

    "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.

    He may be contacted via e-mail at: paularmentano@aol.com

    Source: United Press International
    Author: Paul Armentano
    Published: April 01, 2003
    Copyright 2003 United Press International
    Website: http://www.upi.com/
    Contact: http://www.upi.com/about/contact.cfm

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