President-Elect Donald Trump promised to tackle the fast-growing widespread use of illegal drugs in the United States.
Since the 1970’s – except the Reagan years – the use of illegal drugs in the U.S. has increased and reached into every segment of society. The failure to control illicit drug use has led to a quasi-defeatist attitude. As a result, the media and the liberal/progressive establishment declared that since the “war on drugs has been a failure” it should be abandoned. Claiming the ‘war on drugs’ led to mass incarceration of non-violent criminals, draining excessive resources from the enforcement community, destroying the lives of young users, and in general, caused more harm than good. This led to new policies that effectively limited the enforcement of anti-drug laws.
The result? More Americans than ever are suffering today from severe health problems because more drugs with increased potency are available for use, as larger quantities and variants are being smuggled into the country.
The widespread use of illegal drugs has led to increasing number of medical emergencies, destruction of the family structure, negative consequences in youth development, more crime, more auto fatalities, more workplace accidents, and in general, more violence.
Is legalization the answer? For some, the legalization of “medical marijuana and recreational use of pot” – passed by voters in 28 states is the correct approach. They argue that legalizing marijuana is not enough; only when all illegal drugs are legalized the problem will no longer exist.
But an unbiased review of the health consequences, the increasing strains on law enforcement, more traffic accidents, rising incidents of child abuse, emergency room visits by young adults, increased violence and discipline and truancy among students, growth of domestic drug cartels and evident long-term residual effects on human development, paints a different picture than circulated in the popular pro-drug media. Still, legislative bodies that are bent on reaching the votes of young people are adding to this false narrative.
By now, George Soros and his funding of many drug policy groups with professionally tailored communication strategies has convinced many Americans that marijuana is a “medicine” needed by millions of suffering people. And his ploy has been vigorously reinforced by the Obama Administration, which abandoned support for international treaties that enforce anti- illicit drug laws.
If the legalizations of illicit drugs is not the answer, what is?
The Reagan Administration inherited a country where the comprehensive drug survey showed that one in nine high school seniors were smoking an average of 2 1/2 joints each day. They were stoned and could not study. Drug use in some military units was over 40%, the media was pro-drug with drug jokes prevalent on late night shows, and several pro-drug bills were in US Congress and state legislatures. Under President Carter, as today, the U.S. obligation under The Single Convention of Narcotics Substances, signed by President Johnson was not enforced. Mother-ships carrying large quantities of marijuana and cocaine were dumped offshore, flooding South Florida. Parents whose kids had drug problems were told by a Harvard Psychiatrist that they were the problem, not the mind-altering drugs their children consumed.
President and Mrs. Reagan had observed all these and decided not to accept bleak statistics that indicated the situation was hopeless. Instead, they opted to implement a firm policy to reduce drug abuse.
The strategy was national and international in scope and required a break with traditional federal drug policies.
The Reagan’s National Strategy included:
- Drug abuse prevention through awareness and action;
- Emphasis on education and prevention;
- Aimed at drug use by school-aged children focused on marijuana and alcohol
- Sponsored by most effective sources
- White House East Wing focused hard on education and prevention
- Drug law enforcement;
- Moved enforcement focus from drug itself to the criminal activities associated with drug trafficking
- Coordinated task force approach to anti-smuggling efforts including military support (interdiction)
- International cooperation to control narcotics;
- Eradication of drugs within the source countries (marijuana, cocaine, heroin)
- Ambassadors to drug producing, transiting or facilitating countries instructed to keep focus on issue
- Medical detoxification and treatment;
- Provided resources to States, allowing them to make allocations and decisions appropriate to local needs
- Research and Development directed at causes, treatment, and understanding;
- All federal agencies to focus on research to allow for better understanding of the issues and develop therapies to reduce consequences.
The implementation of the Regan Drug strategy required an administrative framework supported by President, Vice-Pres and White House Staff.
An Executive Order was issued, designating the Director of the Drug Abuse Policy Office in the White House Office of Policy Development, as the President’s advisor on drug matters. The director was assigned the responsibility for coordinating and overseeing both international and domestic drug functions by all executive-branch agencies. This integrated strategy, managed operationally by the heads of the 33 agencies with responsibilities in the drug area, resulted in a reduction of drug trafficking and abuse domestically and internationally.
The strategy was so successful that Congress under President George H.W. Bush decided to claim it by establishing the “Drug Czar’s” office. The parent groups, so critical to the Reagan strategy, were gradually eliminated by the bureaucracy created by the “Drug Czar.” Since the Czar office was created by Congress, it is focused on federal issues and not the totality of the problem – just another agency head fighting for appropriated dollars. Moreover, the “Drug Czar” is no longer a member of the President’s staff with Cabinet rank and direct access to the President.
President Elect-Trump appears willing to break with Washington’s ways of doing business, just as President Reagan had. A new strong approach with a strategy similar to that of President Reagan’s can be an integral part of the Trump anti-drug Strategy, allowing him to reverse the trajectory of the devastating drug abuse epidemic in our country.
Our recommendations are:
- By executive order, establish a small policy office ( max 5-7 people) inside the White House to handle the drug issue with Director being a Special Assistant to the President with similar authority per Reagan’s Director;
- Reduce the federal bureaucracy by abolishing the “Drug Czar” office;
- Oder all Executive Branch Agencies to enforce federal drug laws:
- Set up an administrative procedure (such as an Oversight working group comprised of agency heads or deputies) for moving drug policy decision by the President throughout all Executive Branch Agencies;
- Initiate a dialogue, through Presidents’ Ambassadors, with foreign leaders to garner international support in enforcing all international drug treaties;
- Build the strategy around a national/international policy (not just federal) with components, similar to Reagans’, including border controls.
History has demonstrated that drug abuse can be reduced, but not without Presidential directions. No “drug czar” – no matter how well organized and funded- has the authority to get things done without access to and having the Presidents ear and support. Given the drug-abuse crisis, we recommend President-Elect Trump implements an anti-drug strategy similar to President Regan’s.
* Carlton E. Turner, Ph.D., served as Deputy Assistant to President Ronald Reagan for Drug Abuse Policy and as Director of the White House Drug Abuse Policy Office. Turner is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the pharmacology of marijuana.