Obama’s Drug Policy: A Little Better, a Little Worse, Mostly the Same

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

I have a piece at The Daily Beast today using Obama’s trip to Mexico as a hook for a broader discussion of his drug policy. Good: Ending the medical marijuana raids (or so we’ve been told). Bad: Exporting the disastrous Plan Columbia to Afghanistan, trying to bring back Byrne Grants. The same: just about everything else.

Also, Constantino Diaz-Duran’s piece on the queens of Mexico’s drug cartels is really interesting.

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32 Responses to “Obama’s Drug Policy: A Little Better, a Little Worse, Mostly the Same”

  1. #1 |  freedomfan | 

    Good article, Radley. Ultimately, I wonder if Obama will even follow through on his promise to end federal involvement in medical marijuana prosecutions. The more I read about this guy, the harder it is to avoid concluding he just tells people what they want to hear and then continues to do pretty much what the last guy did. In other words, he’s just another politician. As I’ve said, sell your stock in the company making “CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN” T-shirts and buy stock in the company making “MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS” T-shirts.

    BTW, one of my favorite lines from the article:

    But just how culturally radical could legalization be if it’s supported by both The National Review and the late Milton Friedman?

    I read that and thought, “I’ll bet Naomi Klein’s head just exploded.”

  2. #2 |  Darryl | 

    Have you seen this story? I don’t remember reading about it on your blog. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-scavo-15apr15,0,134506.story

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Power changes the man. He is morphing from the man who will bring change to the man who will rationalize why he can’t bring change. It’s the irony of sitting in the most powerful office in the world that you’re impotent to do much for fear of rocking the boat and generating uncertainty that could hurt him politically.

    It’s a lot easier to predict and prepare for the future if you maintain the status quo. Maintaining the drug war as is, is a pretty safe bet. Stopping the medical marijuana raids was a low risk change. Legalizing it completely is terrifying for a president who still has another election on the horizon. If it happens, he won’t be the one leading the way.

    Even as we heap hope upon hope, we have to face the fact that politicians are not the heroes they’re made out to be. They are almost universally self-serving, ego-driven, con-artists who, regardless of their party affiliation, will move the country further away from the liberty-minded principles on which it was based even as they promise the opposite. The American election process is geared to promote precisely that kind of character. Obama won, not because he’s so much different than McCain or Clinton, but because he didn’t have as much visible baggage showing how similar he is to them.

  4. #4 |  Reggie Hubbard | 

    American drug companies pay Turks a lot of money for their poppies from which to make opiates out of and sell as medicine at high costs. Oh yeah, and many Americans from Limbaugh to high school kids are popping these (obviously not prescribed) pills like candy.

    Afghanistan’s farmers are only guaranteed irrigation and security (not to mention double or triple the money) if they grow poppies for the Taliban to turn into illegal opiates and sell at a cheaper rate as heroin or opium to junkies in America.

    How many cases against the drug war can be made using only those two paragraphs?

    And we want to emulate what we did in South America? Fucking great plan, there’s definitely no cocaine anymore.

  5. #5 |  Reggie Hubbard | 

    p.s. Other than politicians the only two people still publicly in favor of prohibition are Steve Baldwin and this guy: http://media.www.spectatornews.com/media/storage/paper218/news/2009/04/16/Editorialopinion/Most-Marijuana.Users.Do.It.For.High-3712862.shtml

  6. #6 |  Balloon Maker | 

    BBBut, if the RIGHT people only had bigger guns, ie the Mexican police, and the RIGHT people only had tanks, ie the Portland, ME police, we could shoot all those drugs into submission.

  7. #7 |  J | 

    @ #3:

    What do you think the chances are that if Obama gets re-elected he starts taking steps toward ending the drug war in his second term? Wouldn’t that be much safer for him at that point than if he were to really throw all his chips on the table now? I’m not defending his current actions (or lack thereof) but merely questioning if he is, in fact, merely waiting to make waves by saving his most radical changes for a second term.

  8. #8 |  Brian | 

    Seems like everyone writes for the Daily Beast now… whats that about?

  9. #9 |  Sam | 

    Wow, Obama got three months to change the world, and because it didn’t happen, he’s pretty much a failure. Talk about high expectations.

  10. #10 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    Reggie, Peter Hitchens is also pretty heavy into prohibition:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1169277/PETER-HITCHENS-The-week-proved-forgotten-lesson-Easter.html

    Really, it’s an addiction for these people, and the best way to treat it is cold turkey.

  11. #11 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    oops. Same page, scroll down to the second headline.
    P.S. This guy looks like if Joe Flacco and Mr. Bean had a kid.

  12. #12 |  freedomfan | 

    J, that’s the exact same same thinking W Bush’s supporters used to tell me during his first term. I would ask them when they thought he was going to get around to some of the small-government, fiscal conservatism he campaigned on in 2000. I asked about the Medicare Modernization Act (which W had promoted as costing about $100 billion and had then immediately admitted would cost over $500 billion after it passed), and further federalization of education, and steel tariffs, and so on down the line. All I got was “He can’t spend all his political capital on controversial things in his first term. Wait until he gets re-elected.” When I mentioned that it seemed like he was blowing his ‘political capital’ by not doing the things he campaigned on doing, I got, basically, “Yeah, but War on Terror; Supreme Court Justices; Ooga, booga, booga.” Well, we all know how much of a fiscal conservative he turned out to be during the second term.

    BTW, I used W as an example because he’s the most recent. We could do the same thing with Clinton supporters claiming he would revisit the causes he let go (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, drug policy rationalization, etc.) in his second term. Same with Bush senior (who rightly never got a second term to get his mind right on gun bans, tax increases, the ADA, massive environmental regulations, etc.) and Reagan (passed on his chance to eliminate several federal departments he had criticized when campaigning, eliminate draft registration, reform Socialist Insecurity, etc.).

    There will always be some excuse for a politician to not do what he really should. The reality is that Obama may not get a second term and it’s simply irrational to expect that he is secretly planning to do all things his fans want him to do once “he doesn’t have to worry about re-election.” The best predictor for what he will really do is the pattern he is establishing now. That is the best data we are ever going to get on how Barack Obama will act as President. If he doesn’t do what he said now, that’s an indication we should vote him out, not re-elect him

    The second term argument is a sham. If the President can’t stand up now, then we are suckers to think he will stand up later.

  13. #13 |  zero | 

    @ #7:
    He could not do anything to legalize or decriminalize drugs in his 2nd term either. Even though he would not be running again it would be too risky for the Democratic party. He would not be allowed to do anything that would harm the Party’s chance in the next Presidential election. So no nothing can be done about this issue ever. Accept that and move on.

  14. #14 |  J | 

    Thanks freedomfan. I posed the question because that is the one I constantly hear from friends, family, co-workers, etc. whenever someone questions Obama’s motives. You answered if far more eloquently than I usually do.

  15. #15 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #7 J

    I doubt I could add anything to the answers already given by freedomfan and zero. Politicians always have some reason for not doing anything that would disrupt the status quo. I guess they’re the ultimate procrastinators. All talk, no action.

  16. #16 |  Mattocracy | 

    Obama won’t do much for drug policies. Those who supported him for his campaign rhetoric concerning drug prohibition won’t hold him accountable for failing to deliver. Pretty much happens with every candidate and his/her supporters on any issue. That’s the status quo we can believe in.

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The way government does things, someday they’ll probably legalize pot, but tax it so heavily they’ll still have the same black market they have now. They’re certainly headed that direction with cigarettes. If there’s a way of fucking something up, government will find it.

  18. #18 |  Marty | 

    If the drug queenpins all look like Laura Zúñiga, I wanna be a smuggler!

    well said, #12 freedomfan

  19. #19 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    “As for ‘prohibition’, the drug lobby uses this expression to mislead the gullible into comparing the winnable struggle against narcotics with the doomed war against booze fought by the ‘Untouchables’ and others in Twenties Chicago. Alcohol had been legal for centuries, part of the culture of Christian civilisation. You might as well try to make breathing illegal. But cannabis, cocaine and heroin are alien to our world, and could be driven out by firm action.”

    From the Peter Hitchens article.

    If the war was “winnable” why after trillions of dollars, multinational cooperation, a cornucopia of draconic laws, and over 70 years of drug prohibition hasn’t the war been “won”?

    And Cannabis? Alien to our world? Wtf is this jackass talking about? People were smoking dope before Jesus was born! We’ve been using ganja for food and fiber for THOUSANDS of years – long before the technology to distill alcohol to anything stronger than a beer, mead, or wine existed.

    Hell Christ himself may have even partook. Some of the stupid shit people will say to justify getting their authoritarian jollies off just astounds me..

  20. #20 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    @#18

    Just look at those Latin beauties. Apparently crime pays very well.

  21. #21 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    @#17, Dave Krueger

    Even if they legalize, I don’t trust a government or a corporation to grow my ganja for me without spiking it with all kinds of nasty alien chemicals, or deliberately degrading the quality somehow. Give me a license I can buy to do it myself and I’ll happily pay the state their bribe money to leave me alone. It’s a compromise I can live with.

  22. #22 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    “As for ‘prohibition’, the drug lobby uses this expression to mislead the gullible into comparing the winnable struggle against narcotics with the doomed war against booze fought by the ‘Untouchables’ and others in Twenties Chicago. Alcohol had been legal for centuries, part of the culture of Christian civilisation. You might as well try to make breathing illegal. But cannabis, cocaine and heroin are alien to our world, and could be driven out by firm action.”

    From the Peter Hitchens article.

    If the war was “winnable” why after trillions of dollars, multinational cooperation, a cornucopia of draconic laws, and over 70 years of drug prohibition hasn’t the war been “won”?

    And Cannabis? Alien to our world? Wtf is this jackass talking about? People were smoking dope before Jesus was born! We’ve been using ganja for food and fiber for THOUSANDS of years – long before the technology to distill alcohol to anything stronger than a beer, mead, or wine existed.

    Hell Christ himself may have even partook. Some of the stupid shit people will say to justify getting their authoritarian jollies off just astounds me..

    (sorry if this post pops up twice, I mistyped in the email field and the moderator ate it)

  23. #23 |  Marty | 

    #9 | Sam-

    you cannot be that naive as to think the people against obama’s policies are THAT simplistic…

  24. #24 |  Rhayader | 

    I was surprised there was no mention of Griselda Blanco in the “Queenpins” piece at the Daily Beast. She was Columbian and not Mexican, but was a hugely important part of the cocaine flood in early 80′s Miami. A true pioneer for her gender.

    Oh and a bloodthirsty psycho.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griselda_blanco

  25. #25 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Lots of guessing here about what Obama will or won’t do.

    Here ya go: Whoever is president will expand government more than the previous guy. Debt will grow more than the previous guy. And, you will be less free. There will also be a “military action” that used to pass as war. More Keynes. More socialism.

    No, I don’t care who is president. Why would a president want change? They know exactly the game that made them happy before and got them elected to the office…why change?

    This prediction will be true until there is an actual revolution in the US.

  26. #26 |  MacGregory | 

    Boyd, as much as I detest idle speculation, I think you are right on target there.

  27. #27 |  JS | 

    I think so too Boyd. Any speculation on how long before such a thing could happen?

  28. #28 |  Windy | 

    Hmm, I think we already know what Obama will and won’t do, he made it quite clear with this:
    http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle_blog/2009/apr/16/obama_declares_war_on_american_d

  29. #29 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #28 Windy

    Hmm, I think we already know what Obama will and won’t do, he made it quite clear with this:
    http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle_blog/2009/apr/16/obama_declares_war_on_american_d

    I just saw a segment about this on CNN and was going to post about it myself. I don’t remember in detail the extent to which he promised to relax the drug war during his campaign, so I’m not the best person to analyze whether he’s changed his mind.

    But, from what he’s saying now, I don’t expect any significant alteration in drug war strategy. The drug war isn’t about satisfying the population. It about satisfying the industry that developed as a result of it. That’s where the money is and money talks. I think his wake up call happened when he took office and came face to face with the power and influence of the drug warriors and drug suppliers who consider America’s drug policy to be the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.

    Basically, I think Obama’s game plan is to promise reform (in many policy areas) in very vague terms and then define whatever he does later as being the reform he promised.

  30. #30 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If I had read #25 Boyd Durkin, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to post #29. Truer words were never spoken. In fact, after reading #25, I think we might as well all go home and break out the beer. There’s just nothing left to discuss here. :)

    We are a depressing lot, aren’t we? When I was a kid, I was politically ignorant. I miss those days.

  31. #31 |  musefree | 

    I am highly skeptical now of Obama’s medical marijuana promises.

    Many readers of this blog may be familiar with the case of Charles Lynch, who who ran a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay that helped relieve the pain of the sick and the dying.

    Lynch faces a minimum of five years in prison. If he gets the maximum sentence the law allows, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Whatever sentence he gets will be for actions that are fully legal under California law. Whatever punishment the government hands him will be for deeds neither more nor less than what even those who believe recreational drug use is evil ought to recognise as a sincere service to those who had lost all other hope.

    Sentencing in the Lynch case which was scheduled for March 23, 2009 was postponed because the judge requested information from the government regarding the new policy regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.

    In response to questions from the court about how to proceed with the Lynch case given that government policy on this issue seems to have reversed, this is what the US Department of Justice wrote in a letter sent earlier today by Marshall Jarrett, Director.

    Not only does the DoJ has no intention of intervening in the Lynch case, it also thinks that the prosecution and conviction of Lynch was entirely consistent with present department policies as well as recent statements made by the attorney general.

    As I have noted several times on my own blog, one of Obama’s campaign promises was that the DEA will end its medical marijuana raids, a stance that was recently reaffirmed by US attorney general Eric Holder.

    So what do you call someone who says one thing and does the opposite?

    The evidence currently points to the fact that at least on the issue of marijuana policy, Obama is a liar. Of the worst possible sort.

    Now that Obama and his government has made it unambiguously clear to the court that they approve of Lynch’s prosecution, there seems to be little reason why the court should wait. There have been many postponements of the sentencing so far, but there are unlikely to be any more.

    For those interested, here’s the letter the DoJ wrote clarifying its stand on Lynch and the new policy.
    Charlie Lynch will learn his fate on April 23 in Los Angeles.

  32. #32 |  Elliot | 

    I don’t expect Obama to end the abominable War on Drugs. But if they did, I want to know what all the drug warriors will do with their spare time and equipment.

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