May 2, 2012
WASHINGTON (The New York Times News Service) -- The Obama administration's top drug policy official said Tuesday that although the government continues anti-drug efforts on the Southwest border, "we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem."
National Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske -- the Drug Czar -- said that it's time to "treat drug addiction as a disease."
The administration's "third way" strategy seeks a middle ground between drug legalization and an enforcement-heavy "war on drugs," Kerlikowske said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank founded by John Podesta, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton.
"The Obama administration strongly believes neither of these approaches is humane, compassionate, realistic, or -- most importantly -- grounded in science," he said.
The new strategy, which emphasizes drug-prevention programs and alternatives to prison for drug users, could become a flashpoint in President Obama's bid for re-election in November.
Kerlikowske described it as "a 21st Century approach" that is "progressive, innovative . . . and represents the future of drug policy not just in the United States, but all over the world."
The $25 billion drug budget for 2012 is divided roughly at around 60 percent for drug enforcement and 40 percent for drug treatment and prevention. For the proposed 2013 drug budget, those percentages tilt slightly in the direction of treatment and prevention.
Kerlikowske touted the administration's "unprecedented" support for "historic levels of manpower, technology and infrastructure" to intercept drugs crossing the Southwest border.
The Department of Homeland Security has said that from 2009 to mid-2011, DHS personnel at the border seized 75 percent more cash, 31 percent more drugs and 64 percent more weapons than in the final two years of the presidency of George W. Bush.
In 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers made 14 percent more arrests along the border than in the final two Bush years, DHS said.
But congressional Republicans say this is no time to de-emphasize the law enforcement side of the anti-drug equation.
"Drug treatment is part of the solution but it is not a substitute for securing the border, which this administration has not taken seriously," said Mike Rosen, spokesman for Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees the Department of Homeland Security.
McCaul was in Laredo, Texas, on Tuesday, chairing a field hearing on border security. "What is missing is a strategy to secure the border, both at and between the ports of entry," he said.
As a major port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, Laredo last year saw $83.4 billion in commercial goods cross over the line. At the same time, Customs and Border Protection officers in Laredo seized over 1,100 pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine.
The quantity of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs seized in the Texas border region between 2008 and 2011 went up by 57 percent, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at the hearing.
"The Mexican cartels will continue to undermine the domestic security of Mexico and the safety and security of Texas and the nation until the U.S. border with Mexico is secured," he said.
Copyright 2012 The New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.