According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website, when the agency was established in 1973, it had 1,470 special agents and a budget of less than $75 million. Today it boasts over 5,000 special agents (which doesn’t include what must be tens of thousands of support staff) and a budget of $2.03 billion. That’s a sizable organization and one with a long reach into the various branches of government and the military.
Yet today there is an article in the Huffington Post in which the author seems befuddled by the recent efforts of the DEA to place the rather benign herbal supplement Kratom into Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act along with heroin, cocaine and crack. The author correctly notes the softening trend nationwide toward marijuana prohibition, and wonders why the DEA would be taking such a Draconian stance against an herb that has little potential for abuse and that many people use for help with various medical ailments.
The obvious answer to the Kratom conundrum is found in the first paragraph. The DEA has become a huge, bloated bureaucracy over the past 43 years that is now fighting for its survival. The change in attitude toward marijuana and drug prohibition in general has the agency running scared, and it is now grasping at straws to try and retain its relevance. We saw this just recently when it refused to take marijuana off the Schedule 1 list despite the mountains of data and research attesting to the drug’s relative safety and proven medical benefits.
The question is, what do you do with a large government agency that history has passed by and is now doing more harm than good (if it ever did do any good)? In Washington, you plug your ears and sing “Na, na, na” for as long as you’re able so that you can hopefully hand-off your expensive White Elephant to the next administration. Not long ago, Obama appointed a new head of the DEA who is only a slightly less maniacal drug warrior than his predecessor, indicating that this president isn’t going to walk into the political minefield associated with downsizing the Pentagon of the drug war.
Not surprisingly, there has been no indication from either Trump or Clinton that their administrations will take a more reasoned approach to drug prohibition than Obama. So the prognosis is that our government will spend more billions of tax dollars and keep increasing the prison population for base political reasons. And people are upset that an athlete won’t stand during the pledge of allegiance.