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Trump Budget Guts Drug Czar’s Office

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President Trump is proposing to slash funding for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) by more than 90 percent.

Under the president’s 2019 budget proposal released on Monday, ONDCP, commonly referred to as the drug czar’s office, would receive just over $29 million in funding next year, compared to more than $385 million for this year.

One of the office’s largest efforts, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, would be transferred to the Department of Justice under the proposal, which will need approval from Congress to be enacted.

Another significant ONDCP program, the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, would be transferred to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Late on Friday, the president named top White House aide Jim Carroll as acting head of ONDCP. As reported by CNN, Carroll’s departure from the White House was “sparked by [Chief of Staff John] Kelly’s dissatisfaction with his work.”

That, combined with the significant proposed budget cut, signals that the administration doesn’t see ONDCP as a key part of its anti-drug strategy.

The Trump budget document implies that the shifting of programs away from the office will “enable ONDCP to focus resources on its core mission: to reduce drug use and its consequences by leading and coordinating the development, implementation, and assessment of U.S. drug policy.”

But the move is likely to spur bipartisan pushback. Last year, a leaked White House Office of Management and Budget document floated a similar move, but the president did not end up actually proposing the ONDCP cuts after members of Congress from both parties strongly objected.

The new Trump plan would give U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an ardent opponent of marijuana legalization, greater control over the nation’s anti-drug efforts.

“To further enhance the Department [of Justice’s] efforts to concentrate law enforcement resources on drug traffickers in the most critical regions, the Budget proposes to transfer the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to the DEA,” the new document says. “Consolidating anti-drug law enforcement efforts in the DEA would better focus resources on the most dangerous, complex, and interjurisdictional drug trafficking organizations in the United States.”

Although drug policy activists have often clashed with ONDCP over its opposition to legalization and other reforms, a leading group called the proposed shift of HIDTA away from the office “deeply concerning.”

“This Reagan-era program incentivizes state and local law enforcement to make drug arrests and then send the bill to the federal government, increasing incarceration and allowing states to shirk fiscal responsibility for their actions,” the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release. “HIDTA should be eliminated, not moved, or at a minimum reformed to ensure the program focuses on high-level traffickers.”

Cannabis-Related Budget Provisions

The president’s budget request proposes continuing a congressionally-approved provision that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state industrial hemp research programs

SEC. 716. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—

(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940); or

(2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp that is grown or cultivated in accordance with subsection section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, within or outside the State in which the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.

But it does not contain a broader current rider that protects state medical cannabis laws from federal interference.

However, the request seeks to revert to earlier budget language that may allow Washington, D.C. to spend some of its own money legalizing and regulating marijuana sales instead of continuing broader language that Congress enacted last year.

SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

(b) None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.

Advocates have argued that the “contained in this Act” clause of part (b) allows the District of Columbia to spend some of its separate contingency reserve funds on legalization, whereas newer language enacted into law in 2017 bars the city from using money “available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority” for such purposes.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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