Tragically, Barack Obama’s Attorney General will very likely chart a more-of-the-same course on two of America’s greatest criminal justice problems, the fraudulent drug war and the related explosion of the American prison population. Barack Obama’s supporters had every right to hope that their winning candidate would provide a change of direction in America’s disastrous drug and incarceration policies. But then came his cabinet announcements.
Bizarrely, conservative politicians in and out of congress alone oppose the nomination of Eric Holder as next Attorney General. Holder’s nomination SHOULD be opposed by all those who love the Bill of Rights and who believe that America should be land of the free, not site of the world’s largest prison complex. Eric Holder, like all of Obama’s Clinton administration holdovers, was a hard core drug warrior, eager to smash the lives of young Americans with felonies, mandatory minimum sentences and fill newly-built prisons.
In just one generation the American prison population has quadrupled. During this same generation a succession of Attorneys General have used the “War on Drugs” as an easy escalator for riding huge expansions in the department. The drug war, especially the persecution of cannabis, has provided decades of high octane fuel for the Justice Department, along with the DEA, SWAT squads, prison industries and urine testers. More arrests are made for the “crime” of possession of cannabis alone, than for all the violent crimes, those with actual victims, put together.
Eric Holder, please note; Barack Obama please note: the Drug War verdict is in! A July 2008 World Health Organization report found no relationship between severity and enforcement of drug laws and level of drug use by a country’s people. The USA, with its draconian approach (10 times more drug war inmates in USA that in all of Europe), actually still has the highest rates of illegal drug use out of 17 countries studied in new research. The entire war on drugs is a useless fraud. Actually far worse than just useless, in reality a horribly expensive and counterproductive betrayer of America’s key values, as embodied by our Bill of Rights. At this point the USA jails more of its citizens for violations of drug laws than Europe imprisons for all crimes. Europeans look on aghast as across the Atlantic former the land of the free locks away its citizens at a rate 6 times that of their own.
The quality of America’s Attorney General, for nearly all the last forty years at least, has been pathetic. Richard Nixon’s wretched John Mitchell was himself brought down by Watergate. During the long decades of the drug war, most of them have been enthusiastic proponents for jailing an ever larger proportion of the nation’s citizenry for victimless “crimes.” Clinton’s Janet Reno oversaw a massive expansion the Justice Department and corresponding swelling of the American prison population. When not scheming for ways to torture prisoners at Guantanamo or spy on American’s telephone calls, George W. Bush’s Hall of Shame Attorney’s General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales eagerly oversaw the jailing of America’s two millionth prisoner in 2003. Finally, Barack Obama is elected and people hoped for the promised change. Instead, the appointment of another Clinton administration drug war hardliner Holder for Attorney General dashes hopes for change in cannabis, drug and incarceration policy.
Michael Pollan, writing about cannabis in The Botany of Desire, put it very well. He envisions future historians looking back on this era, scratching their heads as to “why Americans would have been so willing to give up so many of their hard-won liberties in the fight against this plant.” From every indication, Eric Holder will be yet another Attorney General eager to separate Americans and their liberties, and continue, without thinking or blinking, the federal war against, “this plant,” medical cannabis.
Another new aspects that makes the prospect of the new Attorney General thoughtlessly cloning the cannabis policies of his predecessors all the more ludicrous has been the discovery of the endocannabinoid receptor system and the major role this discovery portends for cannabinoids in health care. Ever protective of cannabis’ Schedule 1 designation, the Justice Department has lead the nearly across the board resistance to the study of medical cannabinoids. As a result, many of the rapid advances in understanding the scope, importance and medical potential of our endocannabinoid receptor system has taken place outside the USA. Now it looks quite likely things will continue on as before, with ideology trumping science still. But let’s hope for the best.