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September 13, 2011

"Bummer: Barack Obama turns out to be just another drug warrior"

1314063741342251_lg The title of this post is the title of this lengthy and sharp new piece by Jacob Sullum, which is the cover story in the October 2011 issue of Reason magazine. This title provides an effective summary of the piece, and here are some snippets from the piece's introduction and conclusion:

It is not hard to see how critics of the war on drugs got the impression that Barack Obama was sympathetic to their cause. Throughout his public life as an author, law professor, and politician, Obama has said and done things that suggested he was not a run-of-the-mill drug warrior....

[But] Obama’s drug policies ... by and large have been remarkably similar to his predecessor’s. With the major exception of crack sentences, which were substantially reduced by a law the administration supported, Obama has not delivered what reformers hoped he would. His most conspicuous failure has been his policy on medical marijuana, which is in some ways even more aggressively intolerant than George W. Bush’s, featuring more-frequent raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ruinous IRS audits, and threats of prosecution against not only dispensaries but anyone who deals with them.  “I initially had high hopes,” says Marsha Rosenbaum, “but now believe Obama has abdicated drug policy to the DEA.”

It would be going too far to say that Obama has been faking it all these years, that he does not really care about the injustices perpetrated in the name of protecting Americans from the drugs they want.  But he clearly does not care enough to change the course of the life-wrecking, havoc-wreaking war on drugs....

We know how Obama responds when the question of marijuana legalization comes up in public: He laughs. The highest-rated questions submitted for his “virtual town meeting” in March 2009 dealt with pot prohibition. “I don’t know what this says about the online audience,” Obama said with a smirk, eliciting laughter from the live audience, “but…this was a fairly popular question.”

Obama’s dismissive attitude was especially galling in light of his own youthful pot smoking, which he presents in Dreams From My Father as a cautionary tale of near-disaster followed by redemption.  “Junkie. Pothead,” he writes.  “That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the would-be black man.”  Judging from the reports of friends interviewed by The New York Times in 2008, Obama exaggerated his brush with addiction for dramatic effect.  More important, he has never publicly acknowledged the plain truth that people who smoke pot rarely become junkies or suffer any other serious harm as a result — unless they get caught.

As Richard Nixon’s National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse pointed out when Obama was all of 10 years old, the biggest risk people face when they smoke pot is created by the government’s attempts to stop them.  In 1977, when Obama was a pot-smoking high school student in Honolulu, President Jimmy Carter advocated decriminalizing marijuana possession, telling Congress that “penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

That is hardly a radical position.  Polls indicate that most Americans think pot smokers should not be treated like criminals...

In New York City, where marijuana arrests have increased dramatically since the late 1990s, blacks are five times as likely to be busted as whites.  The number of marijuana arrests by the New York Police Department (NYPD) from 1997 through 2006 was 11 times the number in the previous 10 years, despite the fact that possession of up to 25 grams (about nine-tenths of an ounce) has been decriminalized in New York....

Obama attended Columbia University in the early 1980s, well before the big increase in marijuana arrests that began a decade later.  There were about 858,000 pot arrests nationwide in 2009, more than twice the number in 1980, and the crackdown has been especially aggressive in New York City under Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg (another former pot smoker).  “The odds are not bad,” observes Ethan Nadelmann, “that a young Barry Obama, using marijuana at Columbia, might have been arrested had the NYPD been conducting the number of marijuana arrests then that it is now.”

A misdemeanor marijuana conviction could have been a life-changing event for Obama, interrupting his education, impairing his job prospects, and derailing his political career before it began.  It would not have been fair, but it would have spared us the sorry spectacle of a president who champions a policy he once called “an utter failure” and who literally laughs at supporters whose objections to that doomed, disastrous crusade he once claimed to share.

Though I had never expected the Obama Administration to seek a withdrawal from the "war on drugs," I was hoping this Administration might seek to foster a broader national conversation about the obvious costs the traditional federal approaches to fighting a "war" that seems impossible to really "win" or complete.  In addition to being disappointed that the Obama Administration seems eager to avoid such a conversation, I am saddened that this area of federal law and policy appears to be the only one in which President Obama's opponents are silent with any criticisms.

Some recent and older related posts on the modern politics of the drug war:

September 13, 2011 at 07:24 PM | Permalink

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Comments

In a different magazine, roughly the same article could have been entitled, "Obama Sticks with Long Bi-Partisan Consensus on Drugs."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 13, 2011 7:55:15 PM

Bill:

That's not even clever.

Posted by: albeed | Sep 13, 2011 10:36:36 PM

albeed --

It is, however, true, a fact you don't deny.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 13, 2011 11:06:15 PM

I often wonder how many of our leaders say prayers of thanks each day that they were not caught and arrested for using drugs when they were younger.

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 14, 2011 12:42:47 AM

I asked my congressman how many members of congress used MJ and he said few or none because the consequence of being caught were so severe. He did say there were former MJ users in congress. A reasonable guesstimate is about 20% to 30%.

There is nothing going on in congress to even suggest they are interested in ending the "War on Drugs". The DEA is another example of Orwell's Laws of the Bureaucracy: 1) Protect the existence of the bureaucracy, 2) Grow, 3) Carry out the original function (if anyone can remember what it is).

An interesting exercise is to try to find out the original function of the DEA.

Posted by: John Neff | Sep 14, 2011 11:32:59 AM

John Neff --

I think the reason people tend to use it less as they grow to typical Congressperson age is that, the older you get, the more you find out about the bad health effects of smoking MJ (or anything), so you quit.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 14, 2011 1:24:45 PM

I think the people tend to stop using marijuana as they grow older is because they grow more cognizant of the legal consequences, and because as they start careers and obtain property, they have far more to lose if they face prosecution. Alcohol and cigarettes are far more harmful than marijuana, yet people who use these drugs tend to continue using them far into adulthood.

And I am a tad skeptical that Congress members are reliable reporters of their own past experience with drug use.

Posted by: C.A.J. | Sep 14, 2011 2:05:21 PM

"It is, however, true, a fact you don't deny."

Such "facts" are doubtlessly compelling to an authoritarian follower—in the manner that " shallow men estimate success." Others remain free to exercise their critical judgment.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 14, 2011 4:31:51 PM

My disappointment stems from President Obama's seeming interest in emulating FDR and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln spoke about the foolishnenss of Prohibition and FDR abolished it. The mafia wars of the 20's ended with Prohibition, as will the gang wars on violence end if we end this Prohibition.

Posted by: msyoung | Sep 14, 2011 6:00:53 PM

Michael Drake --

"Such 'facts' are doubtlessly compelling to an authoritarian follower..."

You're saying that Obama is an authoritarian? Far out. And that I'm his "follower?" Even farther out.

"Others remain free to exercise their critical judgment."

I assume you're planning to quote the post in which I said that people shouldn't execise critical judgment.

Newsflash: Sometimes critical judgments reach different conclusions from the one you do.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 14, 2011 9:35:21 PM

Anonymous stated: "I often wonder how many of our leaders say prayers of thanks each day that they were not caught and arrested for using drugs when they were younger."

I am no leader, but I say prayers of thanks that I was provided the proper tools to make the correct decisions and never use them.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 14, 2011 10:30:08 PM

"I think the reason people tend to use it less as they grow to typical Congressperson age is that, the older you get, the more you find out about the bad health effects of smoking MJ (or anything), so you quit."

You're not Bill Ottis... you're Louis Gasnier, aren't you?

Ganja is less hazardous to your health than the Twinkies you scarf down by the truck load.

What is hazardous is the continuation of failed drug policy.

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 14, 2011 11:33:02 PM

Huh? --

"What is hazardous is the continuation of failed drug policy."

Failed "drug policy?" Well, gosh, since you put it so broadly, by all means have a blast at your next meth party. If you survive it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2011 12:04:50 AM

TarlsQtr --

First you tell us that you raise your son to tell the truth and respect other people's property. Which would be bad enough.

Now you're saying that you came by those nerdy values because your parents brought you up to be a productive person rather than a zonked out thief.

C'mon, Tarls, you need to get with the program -- and I don't mean tht racist, imperialist, 1950's Boy Scout program, either. I mean, you know, you need a REALLY COOL program like Huh? and Anonymous are cheering on. Stay zonked all day, apply for (or if that doesn't work, steal) your government check, but rouse yourself enough to sign the MoveOn.org petition seeking a war crimes trial for, as they said in their New York Times ad, "General Betrayus." I mean, this "failed drug policy" is only the tip of the Amerika Stinks iceberg. Wake up!

Drugs are good for you! C'mon, man! And don't stop with that wussy stuff like pot, either. I mean, that's OK for starters, but you need to move on up to the big leagues with coke, Ecstasy and heroin.

Don't you get it yet? DRUGS ARE THE THING. I know you'll want to start your kid on them ASAP. I mean, that's what every parent wants for his kids, right?

How's that?

Anonymous and Huh wouldn't be all that keen on it for their kids? They only want it for OTHER PEOPLE'S kids?

Oh.

Never mind.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2011 12:25:58 AM

Bill Always puts meth on the same level as marijuana- weak argument

Posted by: Anon | Sep 15, 2011 8:43:29 PM

"You're saying that Obama is an authoritarian? Far out. And that I'm his "follower?" Even farther out."

This flunks the Turing test, I'm afraid. I'd thank you for playing, but what would be the point?

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 15, 2011 9:38:29 PM

@ Bill Otis

"Failed "drug policy?" Well, gosh, since you put it so broadly, by all means have a blast at your next meth party. If you survive it."

Yes, Bill. Failed drug policy.

I am not a shrew, Bill. I am not one who believes everything I read or hear. I am actually capable of making up my own mind without a need for the malevolent ideology of the T-Baggers and hawkish neocons who's views you seem to mirror as your own. Anyone with common sense can see that the drug policy of the U.S. is a dismal failure. What do we get for the $2,012,000,000 the DEA will get 2012? Medical marijuana is legal in 16 states, with pending legislation in 6 others. Hello?

As a sometimes marijuana user, I am quite aware of the lack of any real scientific data that suggests that marijuana is any worse for you than any of the crap that people ingest daily. Everything in Moderation.

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 15, 2011 10:17:07 PM

@ Bill Otis

"Anonymous and Huh wouldn't be all that keen on it for their kids? They only want it for OTHER PEOPLE'S kids?"

You seem to be about 2 pills away from chocking on your own vomit, Bill Otis. Who mentioned anything about allowing kids to use illicit drugs? Like Ginny, you go from one extreme to another hopelessly trying to stay on top of that imaginary soapbox you think you're standing on.

Those voices you hear in your head? That's me telling you to Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 15, 2011 10:28:10 PM

Anon --

"Bill Always puts meth on the same level as marijuana- weak argument."

And why exactly should you, or the government, be able to tell me I can do marijuana but I can't do meth? If I can make up my own mind about the dangers of MJ, as you insist I should be allowed to do, why shouldn't I be able to make up my own mind about the dangers of meth?

Do tell.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2011 11:45:09 PM

Huh? --

"I am not one who believes everything I read or hear."

Unless it's from NORML.

"I am actually capable of making up my own mind without a need for the malevolent ideology of the T-Baggers and hawkish neocons who's views you seem to mirror as your own."

My view on drugs is very similar to that of President Obama. Did you not read the extensive excerpts of the article Doug posted?

Of course, if you view the President's views as those of "T-Baggers and hawkish neocons," you go right ahead. Just don't give the rest of us your pious lecture about who's got a grip on reality.

"Medical marijuana is legal in 16 states, with pending legislation in 6 others. Hello?"

Hello yourself. "Medical" marijuana, along with any other marijuana, is not legal in ANY state. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which trumps the law of any state, it's illegal. Are you that wholly unfamiliar with the Supremacy Clause?

But the CSA is all wrong, you say? Have at it. Repeal efforts -- such as they have been -- have failed for 20 consecutive Congresses. A dynamite argument you have there.

"You seem to be about 2 pills away from chocking on your own vomit, Bill Otis."

When a sufficiently crude and ill-mannered person lacks an argument, that's the sort of stuff he comes up with. Even the people here who don't even pretend to have an argument do better than that.

"Who mentioned anything about allowing kids to use illicit drugs?"

According to your logic, there's nothing more wrong with allowing teenagers to use illicit drugs than, as you said about two hours ago, "any of the crap that people ingest daily. Everything in Moderation." I didn't see any exception for minors, nor does your internal logic suggest one.

Since, according to you, MJ is no worse than tanking down greasy, fatty foods and tooth-rotting sugary soft drinks, what, under your theory, would be wrong in allowing kids the same access to MJ that they have to those things? Or are you proposing to make "the crap that people ingest daily" illegal for kids? If not, why shouldn't similarly not-all-that-healthy but not-all-that-bad marijuana be similarly available? In other words, available without a legal barrier?

And for that matter, why shouldn't your kids follow the example you're setting for them? That's how kids learn, ya know.

"Those voices you hear in your head? That's me telling you to Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

Other than a generalized insult, is that intended to convey something? Or are you just stoned and in a bad mood?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2011 12:32:11 AM

"I am saddened that this area of federal law and policy appears to be the only one in which President Obama's opponents are silent with any criticisms."

Oh come on. This article underlines that some opponents are speaking out.

The problem is that the main electoral opponents out there are conservatives. They speak a good anti-government game but then want to regulate sex, drugs and so on even more. If the Tea Party followed the lead of the likes of Ron Paul, I'm sure Obama and other Democrats could find common ground for a saner drug policy. But, there is no political will there & Obama's best chances these days is not to go out on a limb.

I am disappointed with his medicinal marijuana policy, but I think it might be a matter of the success of state legalization efforts -- after years of legalization, there are simply a lot more targets there. And, the crack sentencing matter is a serious issue. I would also like to know if the new health care law, with expanded benefits for those on the margins, will have any affects given drug addicts often have medical needs. The lousy economy also has harmed attempts to spend money in that department or think outside the box. So much effort was used to deal with that and other things.

Bottom line, legislative action and support is needed. Where is it?

Posted by: Joe | Sep 16, 2011 7:18:51 AM

Joe,

"Bottom line, legislative action and support is needed. Where is it?"

You tell me. Harry and Nancy had it all to themselves for four full years. If the druggie agenda couldn't be sold to THEM and their people, it ain't sellin', period.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2011 9:19:53 AM

"Unless it's from NORML."

I actually had to look up what NORML was. So no, not NORML. LEAP.

"My view on drugs is very similar to that of President Obama. Did you not read the extensive excerpts of the article Doug posted?"

Which is you're a hypocrite too?

Obama, commenting on his pot smoking said, "I inhaled frequently, that was the point." The article above pointed out that Obama’s drug policies are, "even more aggressively intolerant than George W. Bush’s, featuring more-frequent raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ruinous IRS audits, and threats of prosecution against not only dispensaries but anyone who deals with them."

Side with as many hypocrites as you like. You are a proponent of FAILED drug policy, Bill Otis. Why it is people such as yourself keep trying to put that square peg in a round hole is beyond me. It all reminds me of my 5th grade year of school. The boy who sat next to me on the school bus would rock in the seat in such a way that he would bounce off the back of the seat, all the while saying, "I know I am a retard, I know I am a retard" over, and over, and over for nearly the entire 15 minute ride to his house.


"Of course, if you view the President's views as those of "T-Baggers and hawkish neocons," you go right ahead. Just don't give the rest of us your pious lecture about who's got a grip on reality."

No. I meant that it is your views which are that of the T-Baggers and hawkish neocons, that is when you're not feeling fat and bloated. How is it that "the law, ..., is an ass" when applied to sitting on the head of a 12-year-old bare-assed, which you classified as "classic 14-year-old behavior," but not to the 97 years of failed drug policy?


"Hello yourself. Medical" marijuana, along with any other marijuana, is not legal in ANY state. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which trumps the law of any state, it's illegal. Are you that wholly unfamiliar with the Supremacy Clause? But the CSA is all wrong, you say? Have at it. Repeal efforts -- such as they have been -- have failed for 20 consecutive Congresses. A dynamite argument you have there."

Really? Your view is that marijuana is NOT legal in those 16 states, and won't BE legal in the 6 states with pending legislation? Those states that have legalized marijuana have declared that marijuana has an accepted medical use. The Controlled Substances Act and Congress is irrelevant considering medical marijuana laws were not in effect in 16 states for "20 consecutive Congresses." The drug policy, where marijuana is concerned, is on its last leg.


"When a sufficiently crude and ill-mannered person lacks an argument, that's the sort of stuff he comes up with. Even the people here who don't even pretend to have an argument do better than that."

Boohoo... don't cry about your inability to be consistent in your flimsy arguments, Bill Otis.


"According to your logic, there's nothing more wrong with allowing teenagers to use illicit drugs than, as you said about two hours ago, "any of the crap that people ingest daily. Everything in Moderation." I didn't see any exception for minors, nor does your internal logic suggest one."

Right. And Mark Twain said, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Don't insinuate. You didn't have an argument, so you made up one which was that Anonymous and myself suggested that "They only want it [illicit drugs] for OTHER PEOPLE'S kids?" In your feeble mind, crap = drugs, which in turn meant that I believe kids should be allowed to use them. Had nothing to do with all the lab shit corporations put into the foods that OUR kids eat and is acceptable to you, right?


"Since, according to you, MJ is no worse than tanking down greasy, fatty foods and tooth-rotting sugary soft drinks, what, under your theory, would be wrong in allowing kids the same access to MJ that they have to those things? Or are you proposing to make "the crap that people ingest daily" illegal for kids? If not, why shouldn't similarly not-all-that-healthy but not-all-that-bad marijuana be similarly available? In other words, available without a legal barrier?"

Prescribing psychostimulants such as Methylphenidate, Amphetamines and Dextroamphetamine or serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac to kids is accepted practice, but somehow marijuana is worse for them? Get over yourself, Bill Otis. I'm embarrassed for you.


"And for that matter, why shouldn't your kids follow the example you're setting for them? That's how kids learn, ya know."

Right. Your point?


"Other than a generalized insult, is that intended to convey something?"

Yes, and I am confident that you know what was intended.


"Or are you just stoned and in a bad mood?"

Nope. Wasn't stoned... but will be tonight!

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 16, 2011 6:45:03 PM

Huh? --

Other than being rude, vulgar, snide, incoherent, angry and amazingly ignorant (e.g., you have absolutely no grasp of the meaning of the Supremacy Clause), your post should make you proud.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2011 11:35:48 PM

:-)

And you are an imbecile, Bill Otis.

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 17, 2011 9:15:39 PM

The more you find out about the bad health effects of smoking MJ (or anything), so you quit.
Load Arm

Posted by: Load Arm | Mar 15, 2013 2:57:53 AM

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