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Pot Matters: Trump, Belief and the Drug War

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The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, likes to kill drug dealers and users, or, at least, he’s been known to kill them.

Once, he said he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts, though he later apologized (mostly, though, for comparing himself to Adolph Hitler). Nonetheless, for Duterte, the War on Drugs is, literally, a drug war in which he has encouraged citizens, as explained by CBS News, “to shoot and kill drug dealers.”

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, recently praised Duterte for this strategy.  Once again, according to CBS, Trump told the Philippine president “I just want to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem… Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing, and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

So just what does the President of the United States believe about the War on Drugs?

Many have suggested that what the president believes about anything depends on the last person that talked to him about the subject. In this case, going back to his comment to Duterte, what’s important is the basis for Trump’s remark.

The important words here are “I am hearing of the unbelievable job” Duterte is doing. Just who is the president listening to about drug policy?

With that in mind, Politico is reporting that “the White House is backing down from its controversial proposal to virtually eliminate funding for the federal drug control office amid a nationwide opioid epidemic.”

It seems that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will not have its budget cut by 95 percent after all. Instead they will only lose about five percent of their budget, which will include a loss of nine of their 75 full-time employees.

Referring to the initial plan to gut the office and its programs, “Politico reports “budget officials at the time suggested that the drug control office was duplicative of other efforts in the federal government.

Understand this—the Trump administration wants to cut or eliminate as many government programs as they can. Nonetheless, while the current budget proposal calls for $27.75 billion for drug war funding, an increase of about a quarter billion dollars, what’s changing is the allocation of those funds. Public health advocates, for example, say the baseline figure is misleading because more and more of the drug war budget is going to law enforcement, such as a new Department of Justice effort to prosecute more drug-related crimes.

What does Duterte have to do with ONDCP funding?

Well, it is clear that someone in the Trump administration favors force and authoritarianism over education, prevention and treatment as a way to respond to drug abuse problems—and that person or persons are driving administration policy. When it comes to fighting in the drug war room, law enforcement has the upper hand in this new administration.

The evidence is mounting.

Consider the plans for “The Wall,” and the arguments that it will also help keep drugs out of the United States. Consider the appointments of hard-line drug warriors to key policy positions. Consider that the administration would even consider eliminating funding the social programs that are a part of ONDCP’s responsibilities. Consider the Justice Department’s pro-police rhetoric and return to aggressive drug crime prosecution.

Then, on top of all that, Donald Trump praises Duterte’s efforts to promote extra-judicial murder of drug dealers and users in the Philippines.

Unbelievable.

And yet, all too real, immediate, and given these developments, the worst is yet to come.

Previously in Pot Matters: Fighting in the Drug War Room
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