Another Change You Won't See From Obama

From the time Sen. Barack Obama announced his candidacy, I wrote and wrote about his record on criminal justice issues, particularly with respect to our drug laws. I didn't like what I learned and said so repeatedly. While his policy positions and Hillary's were quite similar, the difference between them, I thought, was that he had spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and legislating on them as a state senator in Illinois. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that we least had a chance with Hillary to convince her on a few points since she hadn't paid a great deal of attention to these issues in the past, either as First Lady or as Senator. She'd be more of a blank slate. Of course, that's all water under the bridge. I only mention it because readers are bound to respond with, "Well Hillary wouldn't have been any better." It's beside the point.

On his website, Change.gov, Obama asked readers to ask a question about the policy change most important to them. The results: the number one question among 7,000 policy topics raised was legalization of marijuana. His response: No way. [More...]

Again, this is not a surprise. But, where do drug law reformers go from here in trying to convince Obama. Particularly in light of his non-reformer choice of an Attorney-General?

Paul Armentano at NORML suggests:

1. As President, Obama must uphold his campaign promise to “not … use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws” that legalize the medical use of cannabis.

2. Obama can appoint leaders to the US Department of Justice, DEA, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction and treatment rather than in law enforcement.

3. Obama can support the autonomy and health of Washington D.C. voters by encouraging Congress to lift the so-called “Barr amendment” (passed by Congress in 1998 and reinstated every year since then), which prohibits the District of Columbia from implementing a 1998 voter-approved ballot initiative legalizing the use of marijuana by authorized patients.

4. Obama can call for the creation of a bipartisan Presidential commission to review the budgetary, social and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Paul makes another good point:

Ultimately, of course, it’s Congress, not the president, who is responsible for crafting America’s oppressive federal anti-drug strategies. Moreover, it is clear that in the coming years this battle will continue to primarily be fought — and won — on the state level, not in Washington D.C.

Obama is now taking more questions at the Change.gov website. Here's Paul's suggestion for submissions:

“On Election Day, over 3 million voters decided to legalize the medical use of cannabis in Michigan, making it the 13th state to enact laws allowing the legal medical use of marijuana. While campaigning, you pledged: ‘What I’m not going to be doing is spend Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue.’ As President, will you and your Attorney General uphold this promise not to target and prosecute patients and providers who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws?“)

Politicians are never going to end the useless war on drugs until constituents demand it of them. So, despite the disappointment, keep the pressure on -- particularly with your state and congressional legislators. This is change that has to filter up, it won't come down from above.

A few more posts:

Stop the Drug War says we got burned, but we saw it coming. We sure did. But we're not giving up.

< Chuck Todd To Be NBC WH Correspondent | Thursday Evening Open Thread >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Well getting involved in that (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:19:21 PM EST

    is certainly not his first priority.  There are clearly more important fish to fry.

    Don't legalize, just decriminalize marijuana (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by samtaylor2 on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 04:28:46 PM EST
    The money and resources that are put into fighting marijuana makes no sense.  These should be cut.  Some of that money could go into studying this amazing drug.  But legalizing it with so little SCIENTIFIC (meaning double blind studies, etc.) is a mistake.

    Legalization of marijuana (none / 0) (#2)
    by Joelarama on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:30:07 PM EST
    would be a great thing.  It's incredible the social hypocrisy bound up in that one issue.  Everyone knows otherwise law-abiding citizens who have smoked or continue to smoke the stuff, and yet it is still illegal.

    That people can still get jail time for possession of small quantities in many states, is ridiculous.

    There are a (none / 0) (#4)
    by AlkalineDave on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:49:58 PM EST
    myriad of reasons that legalizing marijuana would do good.  It's something I think both parties should be able to agree on as well.  Ending the drug war would strike a huge blow to organized crime and many organizations that use terrorism.  Public thought has come a long way in the past 10 years on this issue.  I think it's only time before we finally see some change.  Unfortunately, it might be more time than it could have been.

    I have no doubt that public opinion (none / 0) (#6)
    by Joelarama on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:53:34 PM EST
    has changed on marijuana use, if for no other reason than generational change and exposure to "normal" people who use it or have used it, with the same potential consequences as alcohol use.

    But whether that translates to legislation . . . there seems to be some deep hypocrisy at work here.  It's an easy area for alleged progressives like Obama to signal to conservative Americans that he isn't "that radical."  (Parallels to gay rights issues abound.)  


    I think that Obama has correctly (none / 0) (#3)
    by JSN on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:48:41 PM EST
    concluded that any attempt to legalize marijuana will fail. I guess we should ask him how he would rationalize present federal laws that regulate marijuana use and eliminate conflicts between state and federal laws.

    Why would it fail? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by CST on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:52:23 PM EST
    B/c of Congress?  I would bet a good amount of money that if this was ever a ballot-measure it would pass.  The people are ready, our politicians are the only ones falling behind.

    Exit Question - Have any ballot measures to de-criminalize or lessen penalties on marijuana failed in the last 10 years???


    What states have made marijuana legal? (2.00 / 1) (#13)
    by JSN on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 04:45:16 PM EST
    Furthermore unless the state is on a coast how can they legally import marijuana if it is legal?

    Import? (none / 0) (#14)
    by CST on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 04:52:05 PM EST
    Why would you need to import, we have plenty here at home...

    Plenty of states have de-criminilized and lessened penalties.  However, it is illegal under federal law.


    This past Nov. Mass. decriminalized the possession (none / 0) (#7)
    by befuddledvoter on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:56:59 PM EST
    of MJ for personal use.  It is now a civil infraction and that passed by a wide margin.  Drug use is such a complex and never ending problem but what we know for sure is that criminal law is no remedy at all. Drug addiction is a medical problem.  As such, the criminalization is a very ineffective and costly approach.  Further, it makes the condition worse for the most part in that it labels people felons who then have a difficult time finding a job.  It essentially incarcerates people in our prisons who really belong in a medical facility. I could go on and on.  Anyone not realizing this has not really been around drug addiction.

    I know Obama wrote about his early experimentation during adolescence etc, but he went to private schools and produced.  That is not the kind of life experience it takes to open your eyes.  

    Right, decriminalization is not legalization, (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Realleft on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 04:33:45 PM EST
    so the reformers should focus on pressuring Obama to support decriminalization in line with his beliefs rather than push for legalization which he opposes.  

    There is no significant medical problem with marijuana use, and I would say that drug addiction generally is a multi-faceted problem, not limited to being a medical problem, but also including psychological and sociocultural elements.  I don't think that contradicts you, since you also said it is complex.


    More info about the top questions on Change.gov (none / 0) (#8)
    by Jacob Freeze on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 03:57:40 PM EST
    More info from the Hill:

    To anyone thinking the #1 question [legalizing marijuana] was some kind of fluke, consider this: More than a dozen of the top 50 vote-getting questions pertained to amending America's drug policies. For example:

    Question #7: "Thirteen states have compassionate use programs for medial Marijuana, yet the federal government continues to prosecute sick and dying people. Isn't it time for the federal government to step out of the way and let doctors and families decide what is appropriate?" The public's demand for the Obama administration?"

    Question #13: "How will you fix the current war on drugs in America? and will there be any chance of decriminalizing marijuana?"

    Question #15: "What kind of progress can be expected on the decriminalization and legalization for medicinal purposes of marijuana and will you re-prioritize the "War On Drugs" to reflect the need for drug treatment instead of incarceration?"

    what i'd like to know, (none / 0) (#9)
    by cpinva on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 04:10:05 PM EST
    and have yet to see articulated, is why he won't support legalizing pot? what is his basis for refusing to do so? is it rooted in science, or merely politics.

    people want to know.

    Has to be politics (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 04:14:10 PM EST
    because it can't be science.

    Fascinating that he can't muster up more than a flat one-sentence response to the number one question on his own Web site.


    yes, i knew that already, (none / 0) (#17)
    by cpinva on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 11:34:15 PM EST
    Has to be politics

    it was a rhetorical question. i don't expect to get an actual answer from pres.-elect obama.


    O can't afford to advocate ending drug wars (none / 0) (#15)
    by Yes2Truth on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 05:03:53 PM EST
    Intelligence services here and abroad depend on drug laws and drug trafficking to raise money for off-the-books operations and for many other purposes such as providing a pretext to undermine, contain, or destroy socially progressive movements as well as to facilitate corporate welfare to the prison industrial complex.

    I'm sorry (none / 0) (#16)
    by AlkalineDave on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 05:28:35 PM EST
    but I don't buy that whatsoever.

    It's true. (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Salo on Fri Dec 19, 2008 at 02:06:47 PM EST
    The British fought wars over opium trading rights. The CIA did smuggle herion out of the Iron Triangle.  There's evidence that strongly suggests contras were funded with cocaine money.

    Don't blame me, I voted for Gravel. (none / 0) (#19)
    by Ben Masel on Fri Dec 19, 2008 at 08:59:25 PM EST
    More seriously, the behind the scenes  option available to Obama is to order the FDA to proceed on the Rescheduling petition that's been pending since 2002, and then, "follow the science."