- Reuters/Carlo Allegri
The Trump administration plans to cut 96% of the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), effectively eliminating the federal agency that has traditionally been used to spearhead the war on drugs, according to multiple media reports.
The White House Office of Management and Budget’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget reduces the funding request for ONDCP from $388 million in 2017 to $24 million, according to a leaked memo first reported by CBS News.
The cuts would eliminate approximately half ONDCP’s staff, around 33 employees, as well as “intelligence, research and budget functions at the agency, as well as the Model State Drug Laws and Drug Court grant programs,” CBS reported Friday.
“These cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to ONDCP’s mission and core activities,” Acting Director Richard Baum wrote in an email to ONDCP staff obtained by CBS.
Baum added that news is “discouraging,” but told staff “not to panic” and that “events are unfolding.”
In addition, the budget proposes to eliminate multiple grant programs administered by ONDCP, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and the Drug-Free Communities Support program, which the memo called “duplicative of other efforts across the Federal government and supplant State and local responsibilities.”
— Jackie Alemany (@JaxAlemany) May 5, 2017
Staff was notified of the budget cuts on Friday. Baum, who was aware of the impending cuts last week, had reportedly been lobbying Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, to keep the agency’s budget intact.
In February, when rumors first began circulating that Trump might cut ONDCP’s budget, a coalition of medical and drug policy organizations sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, urging for ONDCP to remain at the center of efforts to fight drug use.
“At a time when drugs now kill more people than firearms or car crashes, it is more important than ever for ONDCP to remain a strong voice in the White House and a visible presence nationally,” the letter read.
But some drug policy experts are cautiously optimistic at the agency’s elimination.
“Unfortunately, the ONDCP has a history of advancing predominatively counter-productive policies,” Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Business Insider, noting that DPA has supported the “dismantling” of the agency.
Smith noted that elimination of the agency could actually accelerate efforts to treat drug use as a public health, rather than criminal issue, if it means less funding for programs like HIDTA.
But that depends, Smith said, on if the nation’s drug policy is in the hands of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has called for cracking down on drug offenders, or someone else.
The ONDCP was first created in 1988 by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act at the height of the crack epidemic and the so-called War on Drugs.
Tom Angell, the founder of pro- marijuana legalization group Marijuana Majority, told Business Insider that it was only during the last years of the Obama Administration, under the direction of then-ONDCP director Michael Botticelli, that the agency made positive efforts towards harm reduction and treatment policies. Traditionally, according to Smith, the agency has been at the forefront of efforts to prosecute and stigmatize drug use.
ONDCP’s proposed elimination comes after Trump signed an executive order in March to establish a national commission to address the opioid crisis, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The commission, which was due to receive “administrative support” from ONDCP, was tasked with coming up with strategies to address the crisis.
Many experts said the president’s action is “underwhelming.”
The reports come one day after Rep. Tom Marino announced that he was withdrawing from consideration for the appointment of ONDCP director, the position more informally known as the Drug Czar, after more than a month of speculation that he would serve. The Pennsylvania Republican was one of Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.