Thursday, January 15, 2009

Drug reformers hope; I'm skeptical

Perhaps I should be heartened by the fact that Barack Obama simply said he will get rid of the absurd "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays in the military. It's the issue that practically sank the beginning of the Clinton administration, but Obama seems to think attitudes have changed enough for him to get away with it. Maybe he's overconfident but I hope he's right on this one.

So maybe he really will do something about our absurd drug laws. He has promised that he would stop the DEA from doing raids on patients in states with medical marijuana laws (I love it when liberals are federalists; they may be inconsistent, but it demonstrates the charm of a decentralized system in that it can be used by people of various ideological strains). The Drug Policy Alliance and others are hoping he will keep his promise. This Esquire article suggests reasons both for guarded optimism and skepticism.

I think the choice of Eric Holder is a bad sign; he seems to be a fine man, but he has a terrible record on drug law issues. CNN medical commentator Sanjay Gupta, trial-ballooned for Surgeon General (a post ripe for abolition), as a few writers have noted, seems to buy much of the drug warriors' utterly absurd beliefs about the properties of marijuana. And I think Obama's natural caution may keep him from doing something so drastic as pushing for legalizing marijuana -- although rescheduling might be a possibility. He may also think drug reform is still the "third rail" of American politics, even though medical marijuana outpolled him in Michigan (and George Bush in Montana in 2004).

I remember when Clinton was elected, I was at a DPA conference shortly thereafter, and most of the reformers were almost ecstatic with expectation, figuring the guy who "didn't inhale" would at least be sensible about drug policy if not a big reformer. But the feds set new records for marijuana arrests under Clinton and he appointed Gen. McCaffrey as "drug czar" in a step that made the "war on drugs" more literally warlike. McCaffrey peddled nonsense about marijuana and campaigned actively (and probably illegally) against medical marijuana initiatives.

I hope I'm wrong.

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