Republican Controlled Congress Scheduled to Vote on Thursday to Make War on Drugs Permanent Federal Bureaucracy Despite Growing Opposition in Conservative Circles

Press Release March 7, 2006
Media Contact

Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Tommy McDonald at (646) 335-2242

On Thursday the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2005 (HR 2829), which would make the drug czar’s office – and by default the war on drugs – a permanent federal bureaucracy. The bill would also give the drug czar Cabinet-level powers and expand the agency’s programs.

“It’s hard to believe that a party that took office on a platform of cutting government waste and eliminating federal bureaucracy is turning the most wasteful and useless government agency into a permanent bureaucracy,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “As more and more conservatives are demanding an end to the federal war on drugs, Republicans in DC are putting their heads in the sand.”

On the same day that House Republicans are bringing the drug czar bill up for a floor vote, the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is holding a panel discussion across town on the need to move away from the failed drug policies of the last thirty years. The forum, which will feature former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, is based on a book AEI release last year that, among other things, makes a case for decriminalizing marijuana, shifting most interdiction and eradication funding to drug treatment, and using law enforcement resources to protect public safety instead of arresting nonviolent drug offenders. The forum is from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at AEI.

AEI’s forum comes at a time when more and more conservatives are calling for an end to the war on drugs. In March, two debates on the war on drugs were held at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) the country’s oldest and largest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives. Both debates featured Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Nadelmann’s National Review cover story in 2004, titled “An end to Marijuana Prohibition,” challenged American conservatives to take a stand against the U.S. government’s expensive, ineffective and harmful prohibitionist policies.

As the war on drugs continues to waste taxpayer money, destroy families, and undermine the rule of law, more and more conservatives are speaking out. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a Congressional caucus composed of more than 100 conservative House Republicans, recently came out for eliminating a number of failed drug war programs, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, the Safe and Drug-Free School programs, and the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Last year, the American Conservative Union, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and the National Taxpayers Union urged Congress to eliminate six failed drug war programs to save money in the wake of Katrina. Those program included the three programs RSC targeted for elimination, as well as student drug testing grants, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (aka Plan Colombia).

An increasing number of elected Republicans are taking the lead in reforming the country’s failed drug laws. In New Mexico, former Governor Gary Johnson was a staunch opponent of the war on drugs, and he passed landmark drug treatment and sterile syringe access legislation while he was in office.

Maryland Republican Governor Robert Erhlich also passed treatment instead of incarceration legislation in 2004 and is working on reforming so-called “mandatory minimum” drug sentences this year, and New York’s Republican Governor George Pataki passed modest reforms to that state’s notorious mandatory minimums, known as the Rockefeller drug laws, two years in a row. In addition, California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a number of drug policy reform measures that his Democratic predecessor vetoed, including a law making it legal for California pharmacies to sell clean syringes to reduce the spread of AIDS from injection drug use.

During the 2004 Republican National Convention, the Drug Policy Alliance ran an ad called “The Right Response to the War on Drugs” in the conservative daily the New York Sun. The ad quoted prominent figures like Grover Norquist, William F. Buckley, Jr., Milton Friedman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, critiquing the war on drugs.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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