Monday, July 2, 2012

Will Obama "Tackle" the Drug War in a Second Term?

Political reporter Marc Ambinder is out with an "exclusive" report that President Obama plans to "tackle" the failed drug war if he is granted a second term.

Exclusive: In His Second Term, Obama Will Pivot to the Drug War

Sounds exciting, but don't be fooled by the big headline because the piece itself contains zero details about what the administration allegedly has in mind. A skeptical observer could easily come away from reading this piece thinking that administration/campaign people who recognize the drug war's vast political unpopularity are being somewhat disingenuous with Ambinder.  

Obama -- as candidate and as president -- and his drug czar have already repeatedly talked about scaling back the war on drugs.  But it's been all talk.  Drug Czar Kerlikowske, in his very first interview with the Wall Street Journal after taking office, declared the end of the "war on drugs" terminology.  He has repeatedly said that this is a health and not just a crime issue.  But the problem is: the drug control budget still overwhelmingly devotes more resources to old, failed punishment strategies than to effective treatment and prevention strategies.  The rhetoric doesn't match the reality.

So while Ambinder's story says the administration will use the "bully pulpit" to talk about this issue in the second term, they have already done so in the first term.  Sure, maybe the president himself could do more to forcefully champion this debate, but absent any real policy action it's not going to make a difference in the real medical problem of substance abuse, and it's not going to impress anyone.

Absent any specifics whatsoever about what the president might do during a possible second term, Ambinder's piece today does a disservice to the emerging debate surrounding this issue by letting the administration continue to get away with claiming that they're going to revamp drug polices without actually taking much meaningful action toward that end.

Hopefully Ambinder is working on a follow up piece that will go into some real detail as to what, if any, policy changes the administration has in mind for a second term.

It's also more than a little disappointing to seem Ambinder going out of his way to poo-poo the importance of legalizing marijuana.  
And the next time a celebrity makes it seem like legalizing marijuana is the be all and end all of drug law reform, slap him in the face. (Metaphorically, unless you want to get your time on TMZ). Legalizing pot is the least of it.
Marijuana arrests account for for half of all drug arrests in the U.S. every year, and these unnecessary law enforcement encounters leave far too many people with criminal records that prevent them from getting jobs, going to school and making something of themselves.  And let's not forget that marijuana is a huge cash crop for gangs and cartels that cut people's heads off. Legalized regulation would deal a bigger financial blow to organized crime than any level of law enforcement dedication or skill in the revolving door "drug war" ever can. 

Perhaps Ambinder's worst mistake in the piece is a factual error:

Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself.
Actually, the administration can take very significant unilateral action on this issue, including the rescheduling of marijuana and other drugs as per the Controlled Substances Act. This can be done administratively without congressional action.  

So while we're all of course hoping that the next president -- no matter who he is -- will take meaningful action to address failed and harmful drug policies, Ambinder's report adds nothing new to the emerging drug policy debate except, perhaps, the news that at least some White House or campaign officials are beginning to see the electoral value in their candidate being seen as a drug policy reformer.


  1. Except for a couple of grammatical errors, this article is significantly important. First because President Obama campaigned for change, and then the last four years has been anything but change. 2ND, reform - of drug laws? Well it was implied perhaps but I don't think promised exactly. Still, the President knows much better than many members of society exactly how significant cannabis decriminalization would be in America, after-all, according to a book by Pulitzer prize winning author David Maraniss, "Barack Obama, The Story", which I discussed on my own blog recently, Barack (Barry) Obama was a stoner as a teen and young adult in Hawaii. He was a "ring-leader", inventing all sorts of ingenious stoner practices and games.

    What the President fails to understand it appears, is he became President of the United States even after a history of using cannabis. How did he do that if cannabis is so dangerous and addictive? He was never busted, is the plain, simple truth.

    A sad truth to the millions of Americans who have been busted, and since the 9/11 crackdown on personal background checks, are unemployable.

    There is an additional reason why President Obama may be hesitant to rally reform... the simple fact that when it comes to drug testing, cannabis makes for the gold standard: unlike every other drug, cannabis use can be detected up to a month or more after use. This is because they test for not THC itself, but rather a metabolite that lingers in fat cells. If the federal gov't legalized cannabis, testing for illicit drugs would become a moot point. Most everyone would pass a drug screening. And since it's still believed that cannabis is the stepping stone to hard drugs, removing cannabis use from the test would render it ineffective as a predictor of who (in theory) uses illicit drugs.

    And there's a third thorn on the bush... Big Pharma. Although cannabis is a Schedule One Controlled substance, making it "illegal" to pursue studies with regards to benefits to use by human beings, Drug Czar Kerlikowske recently made a statement that the NIH is pursuing "safe and effective" uses for cannabis... that "smoking it is unsafe". The implication is, although no mention of eating or drinking it as a tea is mentioned, as an alternative to smoking it, Big pharma knows cannabis has value. It has the federal government in a stranglehold to prolong indefinitely cannabis prohibition so it can develop synthetic drugs based on the plant.

    It's an oxymoron as a Schedule One drug/plant has NO MEDICAL VALUE. At the expense of millions of Americans, the federal government is saying Cannabis Roulette as in Russian Roulette is here to stay. Get busted you die. Don't get busted and you might become the president of the USA.

    Sweet!!! Not.

  2. I'd like to see Romney pick Rand Paul for VP as a counter. That would be delicious.

  3. I am confused as to why this has become something that cannot be handled by the legislature. Why is police and law enforcement now wanting to get involved after so many years? It seems there should be more people than 70,000 backing you if this issue has touched as many lives as you say.

    Just wondering.

  4. So long as non-violent drug offenders are locked up, I have a hard time believing the WOD will come to an end any time soon. Notably, Marc Emery continues to sit in an American jail for something that isn't even a crime in his home country.

    What is the rational for needing to wait until after the next election anyway?

    Action, not words - that is what will cause me to vote one way or another.

  5. we have 8 states voting on legalization in November.

    Just because Obama doesn't come out in support of legalization publically doesn't mean he supports prohibition.

    If he were to come out in support of legalization publically,
    he would probably lose the election,
    but the fact that he's not getting in the way of and allowing an unprecedented amount of votes on legalization is an indicator that he's evolving on the issue.

    Now, I see a few people saying pro ron paul stuff.

    You should all know that during the prop 19 debates,
    almost every single person I ran into who was propagating against it were all libertarians.

    This is a faux liberal party that's just using legalization as a wedge issue to get your vote.
    If they came out against prop 19, you shouldn't trust them.
    Lots of politicians will try to use you like this so don't be fooled.
    He also believing in Ronald Reagan style deregulation and that rights to do with race are detrimental to society so there's more than one reason not to trust that party.

    With that said,
    legalization in America is non-bipartisan.

    It's not an issue to make political.
    Leave the politics out of it because we need to convince people of every political stripe to vote for legalization in November.

    There are going to be countless groups propagating against these votes to legalize so put your activist hat on and start working.

    We only have a few months left.


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