The Public Interest

Can the borders be sealed?

Peter Reuter

Summer 1988

THE RHETORIC of drug policy has changed in the last five years. Political figures, from the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration to local police chiefs, have agreed that enforcement of drug prohibitions has clear limits in its ability to reduce drug use. The call now is for so-called “demandside” measures, particularly prevention programs. Nonetheless, America continues to commit its resources, if not its spirit, almost entirely to enforcement. In the 1988 fiscal year, 75 percent of the federal “drug-war” budget was devoted to enforcement; total expenditures reached almost $4 billion. The Senate passed an odd contingency bill (by a resounding ninety-three to zero), allowing the President to spend an additional $2.6 billion on drug programs in Fiscal Year 1989, if he determines that drugs constitute a “national emergency.“1 Of this $2.6 billion, most would go to enforcement, with particular emphasis on acquiring sophisticated equipment for interdiction.

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