Are We Headed for a “Change” in the War on Drugs?

February 6, 2008

Please excuse the teacher in me for a moment, but let’s review President Obama’s performance so far in bringing “Change” to America. In foreign affairs he has kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense and old time Cold Warrior Robert Gates on.  He has made Hillary “I voted for American aggression in both Serbia and Iraq” Clinton his Secretary of State.  His Chief of Staff, Rahm “Rhambo” Emanuel is a firm supporter of Israel whose dad actually perpetrated terrorist acts in the 1940s to bring about the birth of that nation.  Lastly, it took him all of four days in office to authorize a cross border bombing of Pakistan. 

Economically, his first priority in office has been to outdo George Bush by signing an even bigger “stimulus” (notice the quotation marks) bill than the one signed by “W” in October.  By the way, the current “stimulus” bill is growing as we speak to close to $800 billion and Obama is using the same rhetoric Bush used (if it doesn’t pass we will face catastrophe) to railroad the bill through.  He also made Tim “I have no idea what happened to $350 billion of taxpayer money from the first stimulus bill and several of my own tax returns” Geithner Secretary of the Treasury.  Imagine that; make a tax cheat the boss of the IRS.  Isn’t anything sacred anymore?  Of course, Geithner isn’t the only tax cheat Obama has nominated – Daschle, Richardson, and Killefer make up the remainder of the elite group.  For this record, I give Obama an “F” for “Change”.

But wait, there is one policy area I neglected to mention – social policy.  A part of social policy is the so called “War on Drugs”.  Americans have spent a half a trillion dollars since the 1970s fighting this endless battle.  Over half of all federal prisoners are drug offenders.  The prohibition of illicit drugs in the United States has directly financed, through consequent high prices for the rebels’ product, the longest running civil war in the world in Columbia.  The violence that has resulted because of the renewed fight against illegal drugs by the government in Mexico is destabilizing our border with that country and threatening to spill over into American cities in the Southwest.

Against this backdrop, given the political capital he possesses, Obama has the opportunity to do something about this.  In fact, in a March 2008 interview, candidate Obama stated, “If it’s an issue of doctors prescribing medical marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma or as a cancer treatment, I think that should be appropriate because there really is no difference between that and a doctor prescribing morphine or anything else”.  He went on to say, “what I’m not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue”.  These words gave encouragement to civil libertarians and medical marijuana proponents that an Obama Administration would change the direction of at least some parts of the War on Drugs.

Then on Tuesday of this past week, the Drug Enforcement Agency, a part of the Justice Department, raided four medical marijuana facilities in the Los Angeles area.  Agents seized over 400 lbs of the drug and $10,000 in cash.  When questioned about the raids in light of candidate Obama’s campaign remarks, DEA spokeswoman and special agent Sarah Pullen answered that, “There has been no direction as to a change in how we … enforce federal law”.  The key word in the quote of course is “change”.

It is certainly disappointing that the Obama Administration hasn’t yet put a halt to one of the most uncompassionate things the federal government does – deny medication to those in pain.  Indeed the new president is preoccupied with two other wars he inherited and an economy headed for depression.  Maybe he just hasn’t gotten around to addressing drug policy.  For that possible reason I am willing to give him an “incomplete” on “change” in regards to the War on Drugs.  However, my patience is running thin.    

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