Gretchen Schuldt

Federal Stimulus Law Funds War on Pot

COVID-19 relief law includes billions of dollars for drug enforcement efforts.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jan 12th, 2021 02:40 pm
A person smoking a joint. File photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Watch.

A person smoking a joint. File photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Watch.

The “Coronavirus Relief Bill” signed by President Donald Trump last month was the fifth longest bill in the history of the United States, according to, and contained many items.

One area of this omnibus bill that has gotten less attention is money for drug enforcement efforts. From pushing new technology that differentiates legal hemp from increasingly legal marijuana to funding opioid treatment, the law allocates billions in an effort to control the use and supply of illegal drugs in the country. The War on Drugs is still ongoing.

In a move that some might see as behind the times, the new appropriation bill directs the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to make available to state and local law enforcement kits that can distinguish between hemp and marijuana so marijuana busts are easier for police agencies.

But marijuana is legal in 35 states.

Hemp, in general, is cannabis without the high. In Wisconsin, legal hemp must contain less than 0.3% of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana and hemp smell the same and look similar, leading to confusion and errors in arrests and prosecutions.

The new federal law tells the DEA to work to “ensure state and local law enforcement have access to this field test technology so they can more efficiently conduct their drug interdiction efforts at the local level,” according to a congressional summary.

The law, however, provides for some state autonomy, prohibiting the Justice Department from using its resources to prevent Wisconsin and other states “from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The bill also directs the agency to make periodic reports to congressional committees on DEA’s success in sharing the technology.

Other items included in the bill:

  • $3.8 billion to fund substance abuse treatment through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, including $1.5 billion for State Opioid Response Grants and $50 million for Indian tribes.
  • $1.5 billion for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • $914.4 million for Department of Defense drug interdiction programs and counter-drug activities.
  • $550.5 million for the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces. Of that, $385.2 million is for investigations and $165.3 million is for prosecutors. The report says the government should hire more prosecutors “to help stop the flow of illicit drugs and reduce violent crime associated with the drug trade.”
  • $394 million for an anti-opioid initiative, with funding for drug courts, mental health courts, residential substance abuse treatment, veterans treatment courts, and prescription drug monitoring.
  • $290 million for drug control activities consistent with the approved strategy for each of the designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas
  • $185 million for Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) Programs, with direction that funding be directed at toward “prevention and education efforts, effective responses to those affected by substance abuse, and services for treatment and recovery from addiction.”
  • $128.2 million for various programs, including Drug-Free Communities Program, anti-doping programs, and drug court training and technical assistance.
  • $110 million for the Rural Communities Opioids Response Program, intended to reduce barriers to substance abuse treatment in rural areas.
  • $60.3 million in Internal Revenue Service funding for the Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement program.
  • $50 million for a new laboratory in the New England area to help meet the need for drug testing, which is especially acute when law enforcement offices are not close to a DEA lab. “This issue is a critical risk for areas of the country that have been hardest hit by increases in synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, as well as rural offices or those divisions that do not have their own laboratories, as agents must drive long distances to reach the nearest laboratory for testing. “
  • $43.2 million for the Civil Air Patrol Corporation’s operation and maintenance, readiness, counter-drug activities, and drug demand reduction activities involving youth programs;
  • Unspecified support for DEA’s efforts to reverse the decline in special agent staffing “to combat the ongoing methamphetamine and opioid crises, particularly in geographic areas most broadly harmed by methamphetamine and opioid trafficking.”
  • $17 million to improve the ability of forensic scientists to deal with the challenges, such as identifying new synthetic drugs, that the opioid and synthetic drug crises have presented.
  • $16.5 million in Youth Mentoring Grants targeted at “helping youth impacted by substance abuse, including opioids and methamphetamine.”
  • $10 million to clean up hazardous materials at methamphetamine and fentanyl labs.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”

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