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May 5, 2017

Might Prez Trump conduct something of a federal "drug war" retreat through major budget cuts?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new CBS News article headlined "Trump administration proposes massive cuts to Drug Czar office."  Here are the details:

The Trump administration is looking to slash the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) budget by nearly 95 percent, according to a memo obtained by CBS News.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has proposed major ONDCP budget cuts for fiscal year 2018 that would cut 33 employees, nearly half the office staff, along with intelligence, research and budget functions at the agency, as well as the Model State Drug Laws and Drug Court grant programs....

The document also zeroes out funding to a number of grant programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and the Drug-free Communities Support Program.  These grants are "duplicative of other efforts across the Federal government and supplant State and local responsibilities," the memo states.

HIDTA serves as a catalyst for coordination among federal state and local enforcement entities, and funds task forces in 49 states across the country.  It is considered a vital tool used by law enforcement agencies to go after very high profile drug dealers and conduct in-depth interagency investigations.  The drug free communities support program is the nation's largest drug prevention program and funds 5,000 local anti-drug community coalitions across the country.  This program has also enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order last month to create a presidential commission to tackle the national opioid [crisis], chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  The Order stated that the ONDCP would be providing support for the Commission.  "I have been encouraged by the Administration's commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic, and the President's personal engagement on the issue, both during the campaign and since he was sworn into office," the ONDCP's Acting Director, Richard Baum, wrote in an office-wide email. "However, since OMB's proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis."

"These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking, and if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to ONDCP's mission and core activities," Baum wrote.

The staff was notified of the cuts Friday after Baum and top aides were notified of the draconian cuts last Thursday.  According to a source familiar with the discussions, Baum has been in close contact with Jared Kushner, who heads up the White House Office of American Innovation.  Baum had hoped to convince the Office of American Innovation that the ONDCP is an essential tool in combatting the opioid epidemic. The discussions did not go as planned.

"The budget process is a complex one with many moving parts," The White House said in a statement to CBS. "It would be premature for us to comment - or anyone to report - on any aspect of this ever-changing, internal discussion before the publication of the document. The President and his cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of tax payers' hard-earned dollars."

Due in part of some of the rhetoric used by both Prez Trump and Attorney General Sessions, there has been much talk and consternation about the prospect of the Trump Administration ramping up the federal drug war. But if these significant budget cuts become a reality, it is quite possible that the Trump Administration would be functionally doing a lot more to pull back on the drug war in his first Term than did President Obama during his first Term.

UPDATE: This new CBS News article, headlined "White House dismisses concerns over steep potential cuts to 'Drug Czar' office," includes new statements from White House officials suggesting any ONDCP cuts would not signal a drug war retreat as well as some informed reaction to the budget cutting talk:

A senior administration official suggested that if the White House decided to strip ONDCP of its agency mandate to coordinate collaboration between federal and local law enforcement and public health organizations, transitioning it into an office like the National Security Council or National Economic Council. The official said cuts would "by no means signal the commitment to winning the war on drugs is lessened." The senior administration official pointed to dozens of drug programs across many federal agencies as evidence that the White House is committed to anti-drug efforts, even if the ONDCP loses its ability to issue grants.

But Rafael Lemaitre, a former top spokesman for the ONDCP, countered that the reason the ONDCP was created in the first place was to coordinate these programs into one comprehensive strategy for the president. "Creating chaos at ONDCP or eliminating the agency will mean that each of the bureaucrats who run each those long list of programs and are spread out across government will have no single point of contact or direction to follow," Lemaitre said. "Efforts will be duplicated. Presidential priorities won't be followed. Ineffective programs will continue."...

Scores of former government officials, doctors, community based organizations, law enforcement officials and officials at drug treatment and prevention programs agree. In a letter to senior White House adviser Reed Cordish, dozens called on the White House to maintain ONDCP's funding and strong national influence.

"As we have written before, ONDCP brings essential expertise to the table on complex drug issues, expertise that would otherwise be missing or dispersed across multiple agencies," the letter states. "ONDCP holds all federal, state, and local agencies accountable for achieving specific goals to reduce drug trafficking, use, and other consequences."

Kevin Sabet, the head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a three-time ONDCP adviser who distributed the letter, did not mince words. "To slash anti-drug finding during this opiate and marijuana crisis is exactly the wrong move at the wrong time," he said. 

May 5, 2017 at 02:29 PM | Permalink


I don't see that white house staffing has much at all to do with action on the ground. I could in fact see this as a way to ramp up.

Now, if he were talking cuts in the DEA or similar I might think there was something going on.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 5, 2017 3:55:08 PM

I'm inclined to agree with the first comment.

Posted by: Joe | May 5, 2017 4:21:11 PM

Trump is ramping up on the drug war. More prosecuters, reactivating the prisons run by civilian corporations and funding more money in the doj.

The opiate group needs to ramp up and fast. Its way out if control and locally in smallville even, lives have been lost and ithers floating down the river of no return.

Sessions wants to go back to the 1987 guidelines almost as bad as Bill Otis does. Lets see this was the mindset, prosecute to the highest level charge and assure guideline sentences and above all else, W I N.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | May 5, 2017 4:52:02 PM

Fair points, Soronel, but I think getting rid of HIDTA funding is potentially a big deal. Moreover, the folks who favor tough drug policies have been urging Trump to "restore to Cabinet-level status the position of the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and adequately fund the office so that it can be effective." --- Cully Stimson, http://dailysignal.com/2017/02/27/how-trumps-doj-can-start-enforcing-federal-marijuana-law/

Here is a good Vox piece providing an effective and nuanced view on what the cuts might and might not mean:

"Where the cuts will take overall US drug policy remains unclear. One possibility, however, is that as ONDCP dwindles down, anti-drug efforts under Trump will be more likely to go through the US Department of Justice, which is led by anti-drug hardliner Jeff Sessions, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which historically takes a “tough on crime” approach to drugs. If so, we could expect a more criminal justice–focused drug policy — more traditional war on drugs, less public health focus — than we saw under Obama.

"But it could also mean that without a significant ONDCP presence, it will be much harder to coordinate efforts to double down on a criminal justice–oriented war on drugs, as Trump and Sessions have suggested they want to do. That’s one reason why the reform-focused Drug Policy Alliance mostly praised the cuts, while calling HIDTA and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program 'a phenomenal waste of money that contribute to the incarceration and stigmatization of drug users'."

Posted by: Doug B. | May 5, 2017 5:09:01 PM

who knows what this maniac will do. Impossible to believe anything he says. Impossible to believe he understands consequences of any of his decisions.

Posted by: Emily | May 5, 2017 5:11:18 PM

Have to agree with Emily on this one. Just saw the following post online somewhere:

"Trump defends comment on Australia having better health care than U.S.
By AIDAN QUIGLEY 05/05/17 03:57 PM EDT

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

President Donald Trump on Friday responded to criticism for saying that Australia, a country with universal health care, has better health care than the United States.

“Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do — everybody does,” he tweeted. “ObamaCare is dead! But our healthcare will soon be great.”

Now, this is truly a maniacal set of three statements. The first part is clearly true, or is it? The second part is clearly false, or is?it. The third part is definitely false, or is it?

Posted by: James the Just | May 5, 2017 5:42:37 PM

I have suggested that Trump end his open pronouncements. He should stealthily achieve his goals by executive action. For example, do not announce the defunding of sanctuary cities. Never issue the checks. Have them get lost in the mail.

Stop checks to the treason indoctrination camps in our universities until they institute patriotism and traditional values indoctrination of all their faculties, and purge them of feminists. The checks include all those for research grants, student loans. any subsidy. The same goes for for payments to Planned Parenthood.

If any sues, wins, and gets court orders from federal judges, start losing the pay checks of the judges. Continue to block the funding of these traitor organizations. If a federal marshal shows up at a federal agency to enforce the order of a judge, fire him. If he refuses to leave, stop issuing his paychecks.

There is no moral or legal duty to fund one's adversaries.

Posted by: David Behar | May 5, 2017 7:05:22 PM

Trump is cutting "waste" in the war on drugs. He can even save the taxpayers money. If he would close the Federal prison 'camps' and send these inmates home with ankle monitors. These inmates have taken programs, served time, clawed their way to be allowed the camp setting, followed rules and stayed out of trouble in prison. Complete criminal justice reform.

Posted by: Carol Creasy | May 5, 2017 8:46:48 PM

Trump is cutting "waste" from the useless, ineffective drug programs and excessive spending on getting nothing done. Save taxpayers billions by closing Federal Prison camps and sending those occupants home with monitoring. Camp settings are earned by serving time, following rules, taking lengthy programs, etc.

Posted by: Carol Creasy | May 5, 2017 8:51:09 PM

I've asked the question before: is Trump crazy or is he crazy like a fox? My own view is that there is a method to his madness and if you ask why do I think that well the obvious answer is that he got himself elected president when the supposedly know-it-alls laughed at him.

So I take a wait and see attitude and not jump at the first bait that Trump tosses out.

Posted by: Daniel | May 6, 2017 10:49:43 AM

Daniel. I like you. I care about your welfare. Please, review this release from the American Psychological Association.


Posted by: David Behar | May 6, 2017 12:52:57 PM

He could save $42 Billion per year just by administratively removing marijuana from the CSA Schedule. I think this will be tempting now that there are billions of dollars to be made in the 29 states that have legalized marijuana to some degree.

There are perhaps some where over 600,000 marijuana arrests per year. Treating marijuana like alcohol eliminates the need for funding many agencies at the federal state and local levels.

Posted by: beth | May 6, 2017 2:57:09 PM

Beth. I like your enthusiasm. You are casting utility pearls before the stupidest swine people in our country, additionally blinded by their rent seeking. You are proposing to transfer $billions to the taxpayer from lawyers and government employees. I am convinced lawyers driving the War on Drugs receive financial support from drug cartels, through shell companies in the US.

I propose a special investigator to find the real campaign donors to Jeff Sessions. I am also interested in knowing whether Carlos Slim, Mexican cement billionaire, donated funds to the Trump campaign. Trump wants a wall, a huge make work 1000 mile wall. It can be overcome with an overflight, with a tourist or student visa, far cheaper than hiring a coyote to tunnel under it.

Posted by: David Behar | May 6, 2017 3:32:22 PM

I guess I owe a small apology to the lawyers. They are not alone in their stupidity, rent seeking, and disloyal selfishness, in arguing to maintain their worthless make work, tax funded jobs:

"Scores of former government officials, doctors, community based organizations, law enforcement officials and officials at drug treatment and prevention programs agree. In a letter to senior White House adviser Reed Cordish, dozens called on the White House to maintain ONDCP's funding and strong national influence."

Posted by: David Behar | May 6, 2017 3:38:22 PM

Crazy like a fox? Really? Realize that by definition, approximately half the population is below average intelligence. "No one in this world ... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby." H.L. Mencken. Nothing more than a conman finding his marks. God save these United States.

Posted by: Mark M. | May 7, 2017 3:56:15 PM

Crazy Like A Fox ... a 1980s comedy mystery t.v. series starring Jack Warden.

Posted by: Joe | May 7, 2017 8:01:35 PM

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