Why Is It Difficult To Organize Drug Policy

Drug-policy issues are complex. The organization for drug-policy development must be able to handle the complexity of the drug problem and of the government's response.

illegal drugs come from both international and domestic sources; they include a wide variety of substances; they involve many different forms of transportation, geographical areas, criminal activities, use patterns, and social effects. All these elements are dynamic—constantly adjusting to changes in supply and demand. Drug traffickers and continuing users immediately react to drug law enforcement pressures by shifting to areas or techniques that have less risk. Federal managers and policymakers must recognize the complex changes (and the probable causes) and be capable of adjusting the federal effort promptly and effectively.

National leadership, including an accepted strategy and a process to ensure implementation, is essential to real progress in eliminating illegal drugs and their use. The president must have congressional cooperation in authorizing and funding the strategy. The cabinet departments and agencies must be willing participants, with an effective procedure for resolving interdepartmental differences of opinion.

The complex drug issue, however, does not fit the usual organization of the federal government: There is no cabinet department with line authority over all drug-program resources; and only a few federal agencies are organized around a single drug-related function (e.g., the Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Institute on Drug Abuse). Most of the drug control agencies and all the departments have various other important roles, so they must balance their drug and nondrug responsibilities.

Every step in the policy-determination and -implementation process is complex and subject to bureaucratic, political, and technical differences of opinion. Two of the most difficult aspects of the drug problem are (1) seeking agreement on the extent and nature of the problem, and (2) attempting to assess the impact of the federal effort on the ever changing situation.

During the past two decades, the federal organization for determining drug policy and implementing drug programs has expanded to involve a significant portion of the federal government. The following list of cabinet departments and agencies that execute drug policy reflects the breadth of implementation activities.

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