Barack Obama’s 1st 100 Days: Drug Policy grade = D

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 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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Obama, Cigarettes and Cannabis

President-Elect Barack Obama has promised not to smoke cigarettes in the White House. Does not smoking in the house mean smoking in the entryways of the White House? Out in the Rose Garden?

Cigarettes are not just the most lethal drug confronting America, they are also the most addictive. The power of cigarette’s grip on human behavior its remarkably demonstrated by our next president. Barack Obama is literally the alpha male of human competence and self control. Master campaigner, victorious debater, now triumphantly poised to assume the most important job on the planet!

Yet still, of all people, the President-elect is not able to summon the will to not smoke tobacco cigarettes. As much as he would like to quit, as much as Michelle and the girls want him to quit, he will presumably duck out of the White House, furtively avoiding his family and to the chagrin of his Secret Service detail, light up a cigarette. Statistically, the smoke will cost him 11 1/2 minutes of his life, and each pack of 20 cigarettes will cost him 3 1/2 hours from his life.

Like most people who become addicted to cigarettes, Obama began as a teenager. Recent evidence shows that just a few cigarettes smoked by an adolescent can set up a lifelong addiction. Tobacco cigarettes were not the only drug smoked (and inhaled), “That was the point” by young Barack Obama:

  • One drug, cannabis with cannabinoids, he used and inhaled. Later, Obama stopped using cannabis when he chose to do so.
  • The other drug, tobacco cigarettes with nicotine, he also used and inhaled. Later, Obama could not totally stop using when he chose to do so.

Receptor discrimination?

When the young Obama smoked a tobacco cigarette, the main drug he inhaled was nicotine. Nicotine activates trans membrane receptors in cells, specifically the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR ). In less 10 seconds after taking a puff of tobacco smoke, nicotine molecules crossed his blood-brain barrier and fit like tiny keys into a locks normally activated by the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Nictoine causes the receptors to activate, change shape and initiate a chemical cascade. Young Barack would have felt modest elevation of energy and mood from AChR receptor activation.

When the young Obama smoked a cannabis “joint,” the main drug he inhaled was THC, short for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC activates trans membrane receptors in cells, specifically the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. In less than 10 seconds after taking a puff of cannabis smoke, THC molecules crossed his blood-brain barrier and fit like tiny keys into a locks normally activated by the neurotransmitter, anandamide. THC causes the CB1 (and CB2) receptors to activate, change shape and initiate a chemical cascade. Young Barack would have felt mild euphoria from CB1 receptor activation.

Nicotine is a powerful insecticide. THC is a powerful neuroprotective antioxidant, anti inflammatory and analgesic. Tobacco smoking is highly carcinogenic. No smoke inhalation is a good thing (nor is it necessary with the advent of vaporizers, but cannabis smoking is apparently not carcinogenic. Indeed, THC exhibits several capabilities for preventing, even shrinking tumors.

Tobacco use kills over 1,200 Americans each day. Cannabis use kills 0 Americans each day.

Legal Sanctions

The contrast in legal sanctions for young Barack’s smoking activities are the most startling. If Barack had been caught underage with cigarettes, the punishment, if any, would have been minor. Certainly nothing that would jeopardize his career and future presidential run.

Had Barack been caught and arrested for possesstion of cannabis, though, his future would have immediately dimmed. If given a felony conviction and jailed, as would be possible because of cannabis’  misguided, draconian Schedule 1 listing, Barack would likely now be unemployed. Luckily, because Barack avoided arrest, the “justice” system missed its opportunity to crush the life and career of our next president.

Tragically, Obama’s choice for Attorney General, Eric Holder, holds neocon, authoritarian views on exactly this issue. When part of the Clinton Administration, serving as US Attorney for Washington D.C., he pushed for mandatory jail time for young people caught with cannabis in that city.

Hopefully, as Barack Obama puffs on his occasional cigarette outside the White House, he will think of the vast 2,000,000+ prisoner gulag stretched out across America before him. Far too many of these prisoners languish in jail because they were snared by the dishonest, cruel and self-serving laws against a plant. More Americans are arrested for cannabis possession than all violent crimes combined.

As you take your smoke, please think, Mr. President, of all these American lives being crushed and crippled by such torments as mandatory minimums.  Eric Holder gleefully fed young cannabis prisoners to this incarceration industry and as AG may force many more American lives and families down into the grinder.  All for contact with a substance with true medical value, as opposed to the tobacco cigarettes from which Mr. President, huddled outside the White House, draws another nicotine puff.