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The DEA Turns 35 This Week!
by Russ Belville
July 3, 2008
The Drug Enforcement Administration was created by President Richard
Nixon through an Executive Order [on] July [1,] 1973 in order to
establish a single unified command to combat "an all-out global war
on the drug menace." At its outset, the DEA had 1,470 Special Agents
and a budget of less than $75 million. Furthermore, in 1974, the DEA
had 43 foreign offices in 31 countries. Today, the DEA has 5,235
Special Agents, a budget of more than $2.3 billion and 86 foreign
offices in 62 countries.
So the DEA turns thirty-five this week. That deserves a special
celebration. Let's bust out our handy-dandy calculator and the
official government stats. Time to play Rate the DEA!
Today the DEA has twice the offices in twice the countries with four
times the manpower than when it started thirty-five years ago. In
1973, the DEA had $0.075 billion to work with; today you have $2.3
billion. That's an increase of 3,067%, or a dramatic thirty-fold
increase. Just what have the American People received for this $31.4
billion dollar, thirty-five year investment?
Are there dramatically fewer drugs now? That's hard to say, since
nobody is out there taking official inventories of illegal
drugs. But judging by the Office of National Drug Control Policy's
figures that show drug seizures from 19892003, it seems that there
are plenty of drugs out there. In that time frame, marijuana and
heroin seized by law enforcement about doubled and cocaine remained steady.
Well, those drugs have got to be harder to get, right? All those
seizures and agents and arrests must mean the price of drugs has gone
up thirty-fold! According to the ONDCP's report on the Price and
Purity of Drugs from 19812003, cocaine is one-fifth as expensive (pg
69), crack is about one-third as expensive (pg 71), heroin is
one-sixth as expensive (pg 73), and meth is half as expensive (pg
75). However, the safest of all recreational drugs, marijuana, did
double in price (pg 77).
OK, so there are more cheaper drugs that are easier to get, but
surely they've got to be less potent! According to the survey
previously mentioned, cocaine is about 50% more pure (pg 70), crack's
purity hasn't changed much (pg 72), heroin is three times more pure
(pg 74), meth purity is about the same (pg 76), and according to the
recently released report from the Drug Czar's (Marijuana) Potency
Monitoring Project, marijuana potency doubled from 1985-2007 (pg 17).
Wow. After thirty-five years of substantially escalating DEA
budgets, we've got cheaper, more powerful, more plentiful drugs. But
maybe we now have substantially fewer drug users? According to the
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (multiple reports), in 1979
(first year of collected data) 31.3% of the population aged 12 or
older had ever used drugs, by 2006 that figure increased to
45.4%. The percentage of lifetime drug users increased by about
half. In raw figures, people who ever used drugs doubled from 56
million to 111 million.
I would hope, at least, with quadruple the number of agents and
thirty times the budget, the DEA would at least have more arrests to
show for it. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, we did go
from 628,000 drug law arrests in 1973 to almost 1.9 million arrests
in 2006 that's about triple the number of arrests.
Has the increase in arrests at least helped to save people's
lives? According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention,
back in 1979, 513 Americans died from overdoses on opiates, cocaine,
and meth. By 1998, nine-times more Americans died from those illegal
drugs (4,942 Americans). (Data from 1999 and later is harder to
quantify, as the CDC changed how they classify overdose deaths. In
1999, 19,128 Americans died of "drug-induced causes"; in 2005, 33,541
died. However, those figures include the rapidly-increasing deaths
from prescription drug overdoses.)
Yikes! More people are dying from using more plentiful, more
powerful drugs. Perhaps we're not getting to them early
enough. What about the children? Didn't we at least end up with
drastically fewer high school seniors using drugs? According to the
Monitoring the Future survey (Table 5-2, pg 199), often cited by the
DEA, in 1975 (first year of the survey), 45% of 12th graders had ever
tried an illicit drug. In 2006 (most recent data), the number of
seniors who tried drugs was 36.5% a decline of less than one-fifth
in thirty years. Not exactly drastic. At this rate, the class of
2125 will be our first drug-free group of 12th graders.
So, not only more adults using cheaper, more powerful, more plentiful
drugs, but barely a dent in the kids using these drugs. But as the
US population has increased, there are more teenage drug users
overall. Has the DEA at least made it harder for the kids to get
drugs? According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services
Administration, in 1992, 60% of teenagers said marijuana was easy to
obtain, 40% said the same about cocaine, and about a quarter said
they could get heroin easily. In 2006, half of teenagers say it's
easy to get pot, one quarter say it's easy to get cocaine, and about
one seventh say it's easy to get heroin.
All right, then, we've seen the availability of drugs drop by roughly
one-fifth among teenagers in fourteen years. But when more than a
third of kids have tried drugs and half of them say drugs are easy to
get, I don't think that's much of a success story for a $31 billion
Bigger budgets, more drugs. More arrests, more deaths. More
seizures, more potency. More agents, more users. For their
thirty-fifth anniversary, perhaps they should change their name to
the Drug Encouragement Administration.
"Radical" Russ Belville [send him mail] is the host of The Russ
Belville Show on XM Satellite Radio and Portland's Progressive Talk,
AM 620 KPOJ. Russ also hosts the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast
(stash.norml.org) for the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Lawsand is the Associate Director of NORML's Portland,
This is the U.S. on drugs
Only cops and crooks have benefited from $2.5 trillion spent fighting
By David W. Fleming and James P. Gray
July 5, 2008
The United States' so-called war on drugs brings to mind the old
saying that if you find yourself trapped in a deep hole, stop
digging. Yet, last week, the Senate approved an aid package to combat
drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America, with a record $400
million going to Mexico and $65 million to Central America.
The United States has been spending $69 billion a year worldwide for
the last 40 years, for a total of $2.5 trillion, on drug prohibition
-- with little to show for it. Is anyone actually benefiting from
this war? Six groups come to mind.
The first group are the drug lords in nations such as Colombia,
Afghanistan and Mexico, as well as those in the United States. They
are making billions of dollars every year -- tax free.
The second group are the street gangs that infest many of our cities
and neighborhoods, whose main source of income is the sale of illegal drugs.
Third are those people in government who are paid well to fight the
first two groups. Their powers and bureaucratic fiefdoms grow larger
with each tax dollar spent to fund this massive program that has been
proved not to work.
Fourth are the politicians who get elected and reelected by talking
tough -- not smart, just tough -- about drugs and crime. But the
tougher we get in prosecuting nonviolent drug crimes, the softer we
get in the prosecution of everything else because of the limited
resources to fund the criminal justice system.
The fifth group are people who make money from increased crime. They
include those who build prisons and those who staff them. The prison
guards union is one of the strongest lobbying groups in California
today, and its ranks continue to grow.
And last are the terrorist groups worldwide that are principally
financed by the sale of illegal drugs.
Who are the losers in this war? Literally everyone else, especially
Today, there are more drugs on our streets at cheaper prices than
ever before. There are more than 1.2 million people behind bars in
the U.S., and a large percentage of them for nonviolent drug usage.
Under our failed drug policy, it is easier for young people to obtain
illegal drugs than a six-pack of beer. Why? Because the sellers of
illegal drugs don't ask kids for IDs. As soon as we outlaw a
substance, we abandon our ability to regulate and control the
marketing of that substance.
After we came to our senses and repealed alcohol prohibition,
homicides dropped by 60% and continued to decline until World War II.
Today's murder rates would likely again plummet if we ended drug prohibition.
So what is the answer? Start by removing criminal penalties for
marijuana, just as we did for alcohol. If we were to do this,
according to state budget figures, California alone would save more
than $1 billion annually, which we now spend in a futile effort to
eradicate marijuana use and to jail nonviolent users. Is it any
wonder that marijuana has become the largest cash crop in California?
We could generate billions of dollars by taxing the stuff, just as we
do with tobacco and alcohol.
We should also reclassify most Schedule I drugs (drugs that the
federal government alleges have no medicinal value, including
marijuana and heroin) as Schedule II drugs (which require a
prescription), with the government regulating their production,
overseeing their potency, controlling their distribution and allowing
licensed professionals (physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists,
etc.) to prescribe them. This course of action would acknowledge that
medical issues, such as drug addiction, are best left under the
supervision of medical doctors instead of police officers.
The mission of the criminal justice system should always be to
protect us from one another and not from ourselves. That means that
drug users who drive a motor vehicle or commit other crimes while
under the influence of these drugs would continue to be held
criminally responsible for their actions, with strict penalties. But
that said, the system should not be used to protect us from ourselves.
Ending drug prohibition, taxing and regulating drugs and spending tax
dollars to treat addiction and dependency are the approaches that
many of the world's industrialized countries are taking. Those
approaches are ones that work.
David W. Fleming, a lawyer, is the chairman of the Los Angeles County
Business Federation and immediate past chairman of the Los Angeles
Area Chamber of Commerce. James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange
County Superior Court.