Is the War on Drugs Dead? Or Just Walking Dead?

We have good news that's not-so-good news.

Two new shifts in America’s tough-on-drugs paradigm leaked into the Internet press over the past weekend.

First, an Atlanta Blackstar headline promised that the U.S. government would declare the War on Drugs had expired and would suggest a “sweeping drug reform” to the United Nations. The feature quoted Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield announcing what he described as a “pragmatic reform agenda” that would “focus scarce law enforcement resources on the challenge of the large transnational criminal organizations.”

It’s hard to see how the word scarce applies to law-enforcement resources when the Drug Enforcement Administration’s budget comes in right around $2 billion annually. The DEA also scrapes in another untold stack of illicit fortunes through asset forfeiture (cash and prizes seized from so-called suspected drug traffickers, seizures that often lack all due process).

The foundational flaw in Brownfield’s “reform agenda” is any notion that the DEA could increase its focus on transnational criminal organizations. The DEA has long been in the business of dictating and disrupting global governmental policy under the guise of fighting transnational criminal organizations. The DEA’s commitment to the international War on Drugs is a primary source for the militarization of that global battlefield and is at the root of many thousands of foreign casualties in that war.

Neither President Obama, nor any of his spokespeople, confirmed Brownfield’s plan.

Image via Ash Carter

The weekend’s second bit of War on Drugs happy talk lands on the domestic front. An un-sourced Washington Post expectation promises that at the end of March President Obama will grant clemency to a batch of prison inmates who were incarcerated for drug offenses, and given lengths of time that now seem more criminal than the crimes the inmates were convicted of.

Last year, the U.S. Justice Department, under the direction of President Obama, released 6,000 drug convicts with an average sentence reduction of 2.5 years

For perspective, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates that 100,000 drug offenders qualify for early release. In a stricter tallying, the U.S. Sentencing Commission counted 50,000 drug-offense inmates who qualified for reduced sentences under sentencing guidelines revised for drug crimes in 2014.

Those are big numbers for Obama to work with, but as with Brownfield’s “pragmatic reform agenda,” the Whitehouse has not confirmed any coming act of clemency.

If there is a single moral to be taken from these two stories, it’s, "Don’t expect your government to take the lead on reform."