As Barack Obama’s 1st 100 Days in office looms, many are assigning grades. In several aspects of his presidency he get high grades. But this blog is about drug policy. Obama’s drug policy grade = D. Not exactly the change we had hoped for.
Just a couple of bright spots elevate Obama’s grade:
- The announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that medical marijuana clinics in California adhering to the state’s regulations would not be prosecuted by the federal government.
- The other main hopeful sign is the appointment of a drug czar with a very different and refreshing mindset from any we have had before. Of course, that is a pretty low bar. Gil Kerlikowske, expected to be confirmed as drug czar next month is more friendly to some harm reduction approaches to drug use.
Despite great hope, many of Obama’s appointments and policies are big drug policy reform disappointments. Hope for change dimmed with each of these appointments:
- Joe Biden. The vice president is one of the very worst drug war mongers in congress, with a history of supporting authoritarian drug war policies since the Reagan administration. Biden virtually invented the Drug Czar office. He has enthusiastically supported the bare-knuckle enforcement of draconian laws that has done much to quintuple the American prison population into the largest gulag on the planet. See No, Joe Biden, we don’t “know we needed tough laws.”
- Rahm Emanuel. Chief of Staff. Pugnacious anti-cannabis zealot. Helped engineer the short-lived policy in the Clinton administration to penalize California doctors who recommended cannabis after Prop 215 legalized its medical use in California in 1996. Luckily the courts would have none of the federal censoring of free speech of physicians. See Rahm Emanuel: Free Speech Hall of Shame.
- Eric Holder. A prosecutor with an icy heart, he encouraged the mandatory imprisonment of black youths for minor drug crimes when he served in Washington DC as US Attorney for Bill Clinton. Some of his comments about not persecuting medical cannabis dispensaries in California were encouraging. Other actions, though, show a darkly authoritarian streak.
- A telling non-appointment, DEA head. 100 days in office and no new DEA director. 100 days into his presidency, Barack Obama has left control and direction of the DEA in the hands of the lying Bush apparatchiks. They should have been frog-marched from the building by US marshals in the first hours of the new administration. The White House dog is firmly in place for weeks now, but these same thugs are still paid to commit drug war on their fellow Americans.
In addition to these appointments, other actions bring down Obama’s drug policy score:
- In response to solicited ideas from citizens on how to improve government and the country, Barack Obama twice downplayed the obvious public support for changing marijuana laws. Looking for economic ideas, he dissed the popularity of the questions and said their is no place for cannabis reform in his economy. In reality, cannabis and drug policy could save the American economy tens of billions of dollars a year and provide for whole new areas of innovation that would grow the economy, such as basic materials, food, fuel and medications from hemp.
- Although Obama promised during the campaign that federal laws would not be enforced against state legal medical marijuana operations, he has equivocated on the issue. The latest bad news was the apparent direction given to federal prosecutors in the case of Charles C. Lynch, the California medical dispensary operator who will be sentenced June 11. The trial judge had asked the justice department for direction in sentencing; by the demeanor of federal prosecutors in court last week a hard-line approach is apparently being taken by the attorney general.
- Inclusion of the Byrne grants into the stimulus package. These so-called Justice Assistance Grants ramrod through more of the same get-tough drug war policies that have created our prison gulag. Instead of creating positive social capital, as in education or health, they create negative social capital, more Americans behind bars, more felons and ex-felons, more SWAT teams eager to war on their communities. One of George W. Bush’s best policies was to discourage this wasteful spending.
- Michigan v. Jackson. Just last week, the Obama Solicitor General urged the supreme court to decide in a way that the AP report on the move describes it as “another stark example of the White House seeking to limit rather than expand rights.” The Obama administration policy on this case is nearly exactly what could have been expected from his predecessor Bush administration and attorney general Alberto Gonzales. As it turns out, the behest for initiating the Obama directive came from Bush-appointee neocon supreme court justice Sam Alito. Nauseating!
Although Barack Obama gets only a D grade in drug policy reform, most former drug war presidents fare worse.
- George W. Bush also gets a D in drug policy. He did hideous things, like appoint mad-dog John Walters as head of the NODCP, the Drug Czar, given free reign and hundred of millions of taxpayer dollars to wage his personal war on cannabis. All to very little effect, thankfully. But George W. Bush pretty much ignored the drug issue. He had other wars to fight. In one of his few acts of controlling wasteful spending, he discouraged the Byrne grants which Obama has embraced.
- The Bill Clinton administration also get a D, a D – actually, as the growth of the Justice Department, drug war arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations rose at their highest rate.
- The George W. H. Bush administration also gets a D-, probably should be an F. Focused on the war on drugs with specials from the White House where he fondled a bag of crack cocaine supposedly purchased near his residence. Expanded drug war by Invading Panama and arresting its leader.
- Ronald Reagan gets an F. After espousing that big government is part of the problem with America, Reagan pushed through authoritarian, intrusive drug war policies that still have supposedly “freedom loving” Americans lining up to urinate into bottles, just to get or keep a job.
Barack Obama, raise 1st 100 days drug policy grade! Appoint a new DEA director now. Let his name be Norm Stamper.