Gil Kerlikowske doesn't seem to be calling off the war on drugs yet.
A Congressional subcommittee held a hearing today entitled: "Are We Still Funding a War on Drugs?" Essentially, the answer by federal Drug Czar and former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske was: yes.
That's not exactly the way he portrayed his testimony (see pdf), however. In a press release, his office stressed Kerlikowske's call for "a new direction in drug policy," one that discards a reliance on enforcement alone and scales up a public health approach. The president's proposed drug control budget for the 2011 fiscal year (see pdf) does include a 6.5 percent increase in money for prevention and treatment, including funding to train doctors in recognizing signs of emerging drug abuse.
So how is his office still carrying on the war?
Here's what he said: "This renewed focus on prevention and treatment does not come at the expense of effective enforcement." And enforcement efforts are also due for an increase in funding, albeit of only 1.9 percent, under the administration's proposed budget.
In fact, the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group promoting drug policy reform whose executive director also testified at today's hearing, notes in a press release that the proportion of the budget that would be allocated for enforcement and interdiction (aimed at stopping the flow of drugs into this country)--64 percent--is "virtually the same as under the Bush administration."
Bill Piper, a Drug Policy Alliance spokesperson, says by phone that what's really changed under Kerlikowske is the "rhetoric." While Bush' drug czar, John Walters, talked about prevention and treatment too, he didn't quite go to the level of Kerlikowske in stressing a public health approach, Piper says.
As to whether there's substance behind the rhetoric, Kerlikowske spokesperson Katherine Bush says that more details will be available when her boss releases a new drug control strategy in the coming weeks.