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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks by Director of National Drug Control Policy R. Gil Kerlikowske, White House


April 30, 2013


Thank you, Roberta [A/S Jacobson, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs] for the warm introduction. It’s a pleasure to join you and the distinguished Vice Ministers of the countries comprising the Central American System of Integration (SICA in Spanish). SICA is a tremendous organization and one with which my office has developed strong ties – I meet with your ambassadors here in Washington on a quarterly basis to work issues of mutual interest.

Last Wednesday, we released the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy – the Nation’s primary blueprint for drug policy. It is a science-based plan for reform that contains more than 100 specific actions to reduce drug use and its consequences.

I would like to provide some important context about how the Obama Administration views drug policy and how we see drug policy reform.

We cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. And I say this as someone who has spent his entire career in law enforcement.

Unfortunately, today our Nation finds itself in a counterproductive ideological debate over two extreme visions of drug policy in America. On one side are those still insisting on an outdated "war on drugs" law-enforcement-centric approach: Build more prisons. Arrest more users.

On the other side are vocal advocates selling legalization as a "silver bullet" solution to the drug problem—promising to fill state coffers with increased tax revenue and downplaying the impact on public health and safety.

The truth is that neither of these extreme approaches is guided by what experience, compassion, or—most important—science demonstrate about the true nature of substance use and substance use disorders.

The Obama Administration has chosen a new reform path, a third way—that balances public health programs, law enforcement, and international partnerships.

This third way is rooted in the science of drug addiction as a disease of the brain—one that can be prevented, treated, and from which people can recover. Decades of scientific research from the National Institutes of Health have demonstrated that this is true.

The Strategy acknowledges that while law enforcement will always play a vital role in protecting communities from drug-related crime and violence, the drug problem is more than a law enforcement issue. The Strategy also highlights the historic progress we’ve made in achieving drug policy reform over the past 4 years.

And we are making progress – overall drug use in the U.S. has dropped by roughly one third over the past three decades. More recently, the number of cocaine users has dropped by 44 percent and the number of meth users has been cut by 40 percent, from 2006 to 2011. Nevertheless, this is a complex problem that requires persistent vigilance and constant focus on prevention.

The Strategy begins with an emphasis on prevention. We know that preventing drug use before it beginsparticularly among young people is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences in America.

That is why the 2013 Strategy calls for national and community-based programs—including our Drug-Free Communities Support Program—to prevent substance use in schools, on college campuses, and in the workplace.

We are committed to reducing substance use in our country: the President’s FY 2014 budget requests an increase of $1.5 billion for treatment and prevention programs over the FY 2012 amount—the largest requested increase in at least two decades.

Because of our renewed emphasis on prevention and treatment, the United States is also providing more than just military aid in support of counterdrug efforts across the world. In fact, some of the best, most innovative methods of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery are developed right here in America. And we have begun to export that valuable expertise to partners across the world.

Through the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America—known as CADCA—we have funded training and technical assistance to drug-free community coalitions across the country since 1992. And in the past 7 years, international interest in CADCA has surged. CADCA now operates in 16 countries on three continents.

By partnering with foreign governments to invest in the health and future of young people in these countries, we can lay the groundwork for increased international stability.

As you all are aware, we are engaged in confronting violent transnational criminal organizations across the globe.

Advocates for legalization of drugs suggest that these criminal operations would cease to operate if the government would legalize and regulate the sale of drugs like marijuana or cocaine.

I wish the solution to transnational organized crime were so straightforward and so simple. But it’s not.

Last year, Alejandro Junco, a distinguished Mexican journalist and owner of Grupo Reforma, made a compelling point: Once the dominating cartel establishes territorial control, it turns to the most profitable part of its operation—selling protection to local businesses.

Kidnappings, extortion, piracy, contraband, prostitution—cartels will turn to almost anything illegal that makes money. The profitability of drugs is actually quite low compared to the profitability of many other activities.

So, the suggestion that drug legalization would cause transnational organized crime to dissolve is a fallacy and a distraction from hemispheric efforts to dismantle violent transnational criminal groups through strong government partnerships.

As citizens of the most interconnected global community in human history, we know how important it is to support peace and stability across the world—which is why the U.S. Government is so committed to international partnerships that reduce both the demand and the supply of illicit drugs.

There is no "silver bullet" solution to drug issues either within the United States or internationally— the problem is complex, and it requires sophisticated solutions.

Yet, this Administration is confident that a balanced, strategic approach to the drug problemone that emphasizes public health and effective international law enforcement cooperation will work.

In closing, I want to make a point on the issue of Precursor Chemicals that you spoke about today. I believe this is a serious threat to the region, so precursor chemicals were a major topic for my dialogue during my visit to China last year.

I think it would be useful if we all approached China, both as individual countries and through organizations like SICA, the OAS, etc., to ask for their help in better controlling precursors shipped to our Hemisphere to reduce the chemicals diverted to clandestine methamphetamine laboratories in the region and reduce the adverse impact on the environment.

With that level of international consensus, I am confident we can continue to build and strengthen partnerships both domestically and abroad to reduce drug use and its consequences.

Thank you again for hosting me, and I look forward to additional discussion during lunch.



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