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October 9, 2012

Is it really "shocking" that President Obama has not spoken out concerning state criminal justice reform proposals?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by a comment in this new Fox News piece, which is headlined "High times: 3 states to vote on recreational marijuana use."  Here are excerpts:

Advocates of legalizing marijuana for recreational use may be closing in on their first statewide victory. Voter initiatives that would legalize up to an ounce of pot will be on the ballot in three states in November: Oregon, Colorado and Washington State. Polling shows the measures leading in Washington and Colorado with at least 50 percent support.

“If Washington or Colorado wins in November, and both of them have a good chance to do so, it is going to be transformative in the way we think about marijuana policy in this country and even outside,” says longtime legalization advocate Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance....

President George Bush’s drug czar, John Walters, can’t understand why President Obama is not using his bully pulpit.  “I think it’s shocking that Attorney General Holder, the Director Kerlikowski, but most of all the president of the United States, can’t talk about this,” says Walters.  “It’s about health, it’s about safety, it’s about the future of the country.”

Meantime, Initiative 502 in Washington State keeps racking up endorsements. Most elected leaders in Seattle support the measure, including the current sheriff and his opponent in the upcoming election. Former U.S. Attorney John McKay is one of its sponsors. But the most stunning endorsement came from the Children’s Alliance, an umbrella organization for 100 child welfare groups.

Jon Gould, Deputy Director of the Children’s Alliance, says marijuana laws are being enforced unevenly and that hurts minorities and the poor. “If those kids’ parents are shut out of housing, shut out of employment, shut out of education opportunities, we’re not helping those kids,” says Gould.

Legalization opponents argue very few people are locked up for marijuana possession. A survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that .07% of all state inmates were busted for marijuana possession only. “We need to understand that drugs and gangs go hand in hand,” says Paul Chabot, who advised Presidents Clinton and Bush on drug policy. “They destroy communities. What we have to do is work keeping people off this stuff, not liberalizing policies.”

Legal or not, young people would still be barred from smoking pot.  And critics argue more kids would try it, something the administration has always been against.  But so far this election year, instead of using the power of the office, that message has gone up in smoke.

Regular readers know I share John Walters hope that President Obama, as well as wanna-be President Romney, will address marijuana policy on the campaign trail and in the debates. But I hardly think it is "shocking" that the President has not opined on the proposals to legalize marijuana at the state level in three states, just as I do not think it is "shocking" that he has not addressed California's big criminal justice initiatives or other state-level reforms that may or may not impact federal criminal justice enforcement priorities.

Regular readers likely know that I am following the politics surrounding drug policy reform closely because I have a hard time connecting conservative talking points about freedom, states' rights and nanny-state over-regulation with the categorical opposition to state-by-state reconsideration of absolute pot prohibition.  Given that Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan has indicated that he believes states should be free to develop their own medical marijuana laws while other Republicans have endorsed pot legalization in Colorado and Washington, I am surprised and somewhat disappointed that Fox News thinks it is "fair and balanced" to assail President Obama on this front, especially given how hard his US Attorneys are going after medical marijuana facilities throughout the west.

Some recent and older related posts:

October 9, 2012 at 11:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Fox News is to news as military music is to music.

Posted by: anon1 | Oct 9, 2012 12:47:14 PM

Doug --

"Regular readers likely know that I am following the politics surrounding drug policy reform closely because I have a hard time connecting conservative talking points about freedom, states' rights and nanny-state over-regulation with the categorical opposition to state-by-state reconsideration of absolute pot prohibition."

By exactly the same token, one could say, "I have a hard time connecting conservative talking points about freedom, states' rights and nanny-state over-regulation with the categorical opposition to state-by-state reconsideration of absolute meth prohibition."

Or heroin.

Or LSD.

Or Ecstasy.

If it's freedom, states' rights and the overgrown nanny state that should tell the tale, the chemistry of the particular drug under consideration makes no difference whatever.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2012 12:56:05 PM

anon1 --

MSNBC News is to news as Jerry Sandusky is to truth.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2012 12:58:48 PM

| | Paul Ryan has indicated that he believes states should be free to develop their own medical marijuana laws. | |

· * Medical * marijuana laws. Is that what Snoop Doggy Dog, the Ramones, and the NAACP have been clamouring to change?
I think not.

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 9, 2012 1:02:04 PM

\\Regular readers know I share John Walter['s] hope that President Obama, as well as wanna-be President Romney, will address marijuana policy...\\

This regular reader reckons that Doug Berman hopes for the President not merely to "address marijuana policy", but to liberalise it.

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 9, 2012 2:03:01 PM

Hey Bill,

I agree that a serious commitment to freedom, states' rights and the overgrown nanny state would justify less federal involvement in many drug issues, not just those related to pot. But, notably, there are no efforts I know about in which a state is talking about legalizing these other drugs, and thus no reason right now to figure out whether/how to reconcile different policy judgments by states and the feds as to these other drugs.

More critically, you are failing to answer the question in the title of this post: Do you find it "shocking" that Prez Obama is not actively speaking out against state reform efforts on this front? Relatedly, are you troubled that candidate Romney is failing to speak out against state reform efforts here?

As a matter of policy debate, Adamakis is right that I do not think the feds should be continuing to use federal tax dollars to enforce one-size-fits-all-national pot prohibition if/whenever a state has through legitimate democratic means sought to legalize marijuana production, sale and/or use in that state. (To use Romney's useful approach to this issue, I do not think it is worth borrowing from China to enforce a federal law on a local "problem" that a state may not consider a problem.)

Substance aside, and especially with a big national election only weeks away, I am truly eager to hear what both Prez candidates might say on this controversial issue, which is of concern and consequence at least to those like me who consider state and federal drug policy and criminal justice policy to be very important. (It is hard to be a truly educated voter if/when the candidates will not speak to an issue that is of concern and interest to me.)

In other words, Bill and Adamakis, substance aside, I still wonder if you share the views of John Walters expressed in this article that "it’s shocking that Attorney General Holder, the Director Kerlikowski, but most of all the president of the United States, can’t talk about this." I find it quite disappointing that neither Prez candidate will talk about this (and what VP Ryan had to say was refreshing to hear).

Still, calling a decision by FEDERAL officials to stay mum on a STATE law reform debate hardly seems "shocking" unless one (A) really believes federal officials should opine on all major state law reform debates OR (B) thinks the drug war is so important that it merits unique attention and unique priorities from inside the Beltway.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 9, 2012 4:39:19 PM

Doug --

"I agree that a serious commitment to freedom, states' rights and the overgrown nanny state would justify less federal involvement in many drug issues, not just those related to pot. But, notably, there are no efforts I know about in which a state is talking about legalizing these other drugs..."

States may not be, but some commenters have talked about it at length, making it fair game. And I think all should acknowledge that principles of freedom cannot possiby depend on pharmacological variation.

"...and thus no reason right now to figure out whether/how to reconcile different policy judgments by states and the feds as to these other drugs."

My criticism goes deeper. The question for purposes of unalloyed freedom is how ANY government can tell a person what to put in his own body.

"Do you find it "shocking" that Prez Obama is not actively speaking out against state reform efforts on this front?"

Not in the slightest. After his debate performance, the question is whether he should do any more speaking AT ALL.

To be slightly more serious, no, I expect national candidates to address national issues, not referenda in six percent of the states.

"Relatedly, are you troubled that candidate Romney is failing to speak out against state reform efforts here?"

Same answer. What seems to elude many on the legalization side is that the majority of people don't use dope and have little or no interest in it.

"In other words, Bill and Adamakis, substance aside, I still wonder if you share the views of John Walters expressed in this article that 'it’s shocking that Attorney General Holder, the Director Kerlikowski, but most of all the president of the United States, can’t talk about this.'"

I don't think they "can't" talk about it. I think they choose not to, and, if I were in their position, I would make the same choice.

Indeed, this is an easy call. Suppose Candidate O gives a talk about federal pot policy. It's a sure thing that candidate R will come back with a thirty second spot to the effect that, "With the outlandish unemployment we have, the out-of-sight borrowing, and, abroad, Iran building The Big One and our ambassador's corpse being paraded through the streets -- with all that, Candidate O, in between Hollywood fundraisers, wants to talk to you about the legalities of getting stoned. Judge for yourself who really cares about the things that affect your life."

And it's not just that they don't talk about pot, which is a very minor part of the crime problem. They're not talking about crime generally. This is what happens when (partly as a result of incarceration nation), crime is lower than it's been since Eisenhower.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2012 6:15:42 PM

The news article is no longer present at the link provided but take that comment by Ryan. Whatever the "right" he referenced, federal law would have to be changed to truly allow local discretion though it is important if state law also bans the specific acts.

I don't see him doing anything to actually change it even if ideologically the anti-federal sentiments of his party would consistently warrant such change of law. I put aside the evangelical / conservative stream of the party that would rail against any such change of drug laws.

Given that, I am far from 'shocked' and can easily find reasons why change of drug policy is not being discussed by either side, putting aside other issues are dominating the election. This aside, in such lovely ideal world, where it would be discussed. I'm all for pushing in relevant cases for the matter to be discussed but we all know the "drug exception" rule to many things. As noted, state referenda is not a major issue for a presidential candidate, but they discuss many things of varying importance, and this is as important as some of the stuff talked about.

As to FOX, they have a certain business model, which includes selective targeting of Obama. Why we should be surprised is unclear. Why disappointed? What is new there?

Posted by: Joe | Oct 9, 2012 6:57:03 PM


Posted by: Joe | 9 Oct 2012 Tuesday 18:57:03 EDT
The news article is no longer present at the link provided …

This URL may work …
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/10/08/high-times-3-states-vote-on-recreational-marijuana-use/

Posted by: Anon. #3.14159 | Oct 9, 2012 10:57:08 PM

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