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Up In Smoke — Failures of Bush Administration Drug Policies

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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October 10, 2008

The Bush Administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has had what can only be described as an unhealthy obsession with marijuana for years now. ONDCP has spent millions in tax dollars on anti-marijuana ads, for example, that have been remarkable only in how utterly ineffective they are. Now, a review of government drug data by George Mason University senior fellow Jon Gettman shows just how big this failure on the part of the Bush administration is. Should we honestly expect anything less from them at this point?

Mr. Gettman’s findings included the following:

  • The Bush administration has failed to reduce or control marijuana use in the United States. Marginal changes in marijuana and other drug use have been distorted to support false claims that incremental progress in reducing marijuana and other drug use has been achieved. Marijuana use is fundamentally the same as when President Bush took office and illicit drug use overall has increased. Drug use data do not support Bush administration claims that its policies have had a significant impact on illicit drug use in the United States.
  • Increases in drug treatment admissions for marijuana (often cited by officials as “proof” of marijuana’s dangers) are driven by criminal justice policies rather than medical diagnosis. These policies increase public costs for providing drug treatment services and reduce funds for and availability of treatment of more serious drug problems.
  • Bush Administration documents acknowledge the failure of their national drug control strategy.

I was especially disturbed by the fact that while drug treatment admissions for marijuana have increased since 1996, not even half (45 percent) of these individuals met the criteria for being dependent, but rather had the misfortune to be caught in possession of marijuana. This is a clear waste of resources that could better be spent treating those who actually are suffering from drug addiction.

In the topsy-turvy world of the war on drugs, however, logic and common sense rarely carry the day.

As the Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project here in Washington remarked, “The most intense war on marijuana since Reefer Madness, including record numbers of arrests every year since 2003, has wasted billions of dollars and produced nothing except pain and ruined lives.”