The White House

Office of the National Drug Control Policy

Director's Remarks at the 53rd meeting of The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  It’s a great pleasure to join my colleagues from throughout the hemisphere to participate in CICAD 53.  Let me recognize Ambassador Simons and his talented team on the CICAD staff for their work year round to support all of our efforts.

We have been engaged in a series of important policy discussions on drug policy for the past few years. And I believe that our areas of common interest are greater than our differences. 

With the recent release of our 2013 National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy), I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the U.S. approach and offer some observations on the broader drug policy discussions we are having.

Last month the United States released its 2013 National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy), a science-based plan for reform that contains more than 100 specific actions to reduce drug use and its consequences.

When I was confirmed to the position of US Director of National Drug Control Policy, four years ago, I said the “war on drugs” would no longer define the U.S. approach to the drug problem.

I chose to banish that phrase becausewhile my office seeks to reduce drug use and its consequencesthe war analogy is dangerously misleading.  We cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. 

Today we find ourselves in a counterproductive ideological debate over two extreme visions of drug policy.  On one side are those still insisting on an outdated “war on drugs” law enforcement-centric approach.  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 eliminate drug trafficking while downplaying the very real impact on public health and safety.

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

The United States 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.

Our 2013 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. We are constantly monitoring and analyzing the results of our prevention programs to identify what works and what does not work, and to seek ways to make our prevention efforts more effective.

Recent research has concluded that every dollar invested in specific evidence-based substance use prevention programs in schools has the potential to save up to $18 in costs related to substance use disorders.

Our Strategy also points to the important role health care professionals play in addressing drug consumption more effectively.  Health care professionals have the opportunity to intervene in a substance use disorder early – before it becomes chronic.  Early detection and treatment of a substance use disorder by a health care professional is an essential element in the public health approach to drug policy. This is why it is so important to train our health care professionals in recognizing and addressing substance use and to strengthen the capacity of health care systems to meet demand for drug treatment.

Our Strategy emphasizes drug treatment because it works, treats those with a substance use disorder with the respect and care they deserve, and can literally save lives.  The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, provides for substance abuse and mental health benefits to be included as part of health insurance plans.  The President’s FY 2014 budget requests the largest requested percentage increase in treatment and prevention funds in at least two decades.

As part of our increased emphasis on prevention and treatment, the United States is also now providing more than just law enforcement and military aid in support of counterdrug efforts around 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. [in Latin America, they are located in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru]. 

We are very supportive of the effort under UNODC’s leadership to develop International Standards of Drug Use Prevention.  These standards can help all of us promote evidence-based drug prevention within our countries.

While the world drug problem is increasingly viewed through the public health and social welfare lens, we must remember that it also poses real challenges to citizen security in many parts of the world.  As you all are aware, the transnational criminal organizations we confront in our own countries now operate in many countries and regions across the globe. The globalized world allows them to rapidly expand their networks and seize new money making opportunities wherever they emerge. They exploit porous borders and institutions to finance their criminal enterprises.

Lobbyists advocating for drug legalization suggest that transnational criminal organizations 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 simple.  But it’s not.  These criminal groups have already demonstrated their ability to diversify their activities in order to maximize profits.

In fact, a 2010 RAND Corporation study found that Mexico-based criminal organizations may derive less than a quarter of their revenue from marijuana sales in the United States. 

Last year, Alejandro Junco, a distinguished Mexican journalist and owner of Grupo Reforma, made another 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, human trafficking—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 disappear is a fallacy and a distraction from hemispheric efforts to dismantle violent transnational criminal groups through strong government partnerships.

When we work together with a sense of truly common and shared responsibility, we can make a real difference for our countries and our neighbors. Colombia’s decades-long effort, supported by the United States and others, has yielded extraordinary results—freeing Colombia from the grip of violent drug trafficking organizations.

As citizens of the most interconnected global community in human history, we know how important it is to support peace and stability, which is why the U.S. Government is so strongly 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 that take time to implement and assess.

The United States is committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with all of our partners in the hemisphere.  We intend to continue, and where possible, to expand our partnerships in strengthening institutions, sharing law enforcement intelligence, and disrupting criminal trafficking operations to address the world drug problem. The United States remains committed to enhancing our expert exchanges with other countries on demand reduction research, prevention, treatment, and alternatives to incarceration.  We hope to continue this dialogue in appropriate forums, and continue seeking innovative and more effective ways of addressing the drug problem in the Americas.  CICAD is the competent, technical, regional body on drugs, and we value the forum CICAD provides for this critically important reflection and exchange.

In closing, drugs represent a significant challenge, but I am confident that if all of us work together we will make real progress.  It is a challenge that we can meet, and that we must meet.  We have a strong Hemispheric Drug Strategy and Action Plan to guide our efforts, and a newly revitalized, reformed Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism to review those efforts and recommend how we can make them more effective.  We must use these tools, and give them time to work.  I look forward to continuing to partner with all of you.  Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.