FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What Will Obama Do About Marijuana?

by NORM KENT

 

“I inhaled frequently, that was the point.”

–Barack Obama, November 2006

He picked for Vice President one of the major architects of the Drug War.

He picked for Chief of Staff one of the chief opponents of medical marijuana.

He is talking about picking for the Drug Czar spot a conservative candidate who has been a congressional leader fighting drug reform.

He has promised to put an end to raids on medical dispensaries in California, but he has not said he will broadly support the Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment which would let states decide the issue.

He has moved from once supporting marijuana decriminalization to publishing comments that he cannot overuse ‘political capital’ on the issue.

He has now appointed for Attorney General a candidate who has a long history of opposing drug policy reforms and who has in court supported mandatory minimum sentencing and civil forfeiture.

Allen St. Pierre, the Executive Director of NORML, summed it up best about Mr. Obama’s appointments thus far: “So Far, Not So Good:” His thought-provoking article appears on the NORML.com website at its blog.

From summarizing why the selection of Joe Biden as Vice President caused him ‘digestive tumult’ to tracing Rahm Emanuel’s anti-drug policies for the past decade, the article captures a snapshot of what was routine politics as usual for the players soon to be in power.

When it comes to our 44th President, some of his positions on marijuana were once encouraging. But as Mr. Obama has moved towards the national limelight, there is a new found frustration for reformers. It seems the President to be is moving from the left to the middle. And as Loudon Wainwright once wrote in a popular song, the only things you see in the middle of the road are dead skunks and yellow lines. Still, I am not alarmed yet. It is way too early, and there is still room and reason for optimism.

Commencing your administration in the face of a national economic crisis at home while American soldiers are at war abroad can focus your priorities on other issues outside the need for weed. We have seen what happened to Bill Clinton when he tried, too early in his administration, to advance the cause of gay rights by banning discrimination against homosexuals in the military. He started a firestorm which burnt up valuable first months of his presidency.

We do know this though, and it is a challenging start. Rather decisively, on the official administration website, at www.change.gov, the following statement appears:  President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

What can we then expect of Mr. Obama once he becomes President?

I think there are many encouraging things.

First, in his past he has acknowledged the broad failures of the drug war, declaring in 2004 that it was an “utter failure” which needs to be rethought.

Second, as an African-American in an urban community, few people will be as sensitive as Mr. Obama to the exhaustive legal toll this drug war exacts on minority communities. The arrests come quicker, the prosecutions are more frequent, and the sentences are longer. Drug arrests have been tools to deny poor people driver’s licenses, scholarships and federal welfare benefits, causing innocuous conduct to endure catastrophic consequences for otherwise decent people.

Third, the President is ‘with it’. His telling comments to a group of students when asked whether he ‘inhaled’ marijuana were “Of course, I thought that was the whole purpose.”

Those remarks are a reflection of the candor and commitment of Mr. Obama to address the issue in a new light. He did not play a game of Clintonian holier-than-thou cover-up. With the same self-deprecating qualities that he shared with the nation when he called himself a ‘mutt,’ Mr. Obama implied in tone and substance that marijuana may not be as bad as we have been hearing from the government for too many decades.

Last week, the website Change.gov asked the public to provide them with a list of the top public policy questions facing America. Visitors to the site were then asked to vote on which questions should take priority for the incoming administration.

After receiving nearly 100,000 total votes on more than 10,000 separate public policy issues, the most widely voted on question for Obama is:

“Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.”

Maybe Rahm Emanuel has turned a corner as well. Rahm is politically smart if nothing else, so I hope that he’ll follow his boss’ lead in the area of criminal justice reforms. Also, to his credit, after voting years against Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment in 2007, as member of Congress from Illinois, Rahm voted in favor of holding back federal funding from law enforcement (read DEA) to raid or harass medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries.

I know I have been unsuccessful in getting my own liberal Congresswoman from South Florida, Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, to even support this effort. Maybe Mr. Emanuel will influence her and dozens of others. It will take leadership from the oval office. That can only happen when the people in office are looked upon as enlightened reformers rather than being weak on crime.

Politically, I know such polls as the one the administration inaugurated here are instrumental in turning mindsets. If we can show politicians that it is ‘safe’ to support drug reform, even popular, we can suddenly find them on our side. To their credit, outstanding philanthropists like Peter Lewis and George Soros have been national leaders in helping bring public opinion out of the closet. These are men whose voices may be heard by the new administration. And I am here for them too if they need me. My number is listed. So too is Barney Frank, the influential Massachusetts congressman who has long supported decriminalization legislation.

The truth is that people who support decriminalization have always been a silent majority afraid to speak out. But give them a secret ballot box, and in state after state, you see massive support for medical marijuana and a more enlightened approach to marijuana reform. Perhaps the President, in his own unique disarming way, can lead a new path. He has surrounded himself with educated leaders who also have been willing to speak candidly in favor of decriminalization including new Cabinet nominee Bill Richardson.

We do not need a new Drug Czar, either. This is America. Czars are for Russia. What we need is the appointment of an educator, a scientist, a doctor, a constitutional rights lawyer to pave the way to a new era of drug enlightenment.

At the last NORML Board of Directors meeting, one issue we raised was one many of us within the drug reform movement can support. It has been three decades since the Shafer Commission released its national study on marijuana, which Nixon immediately trashed. Perhaps a new Blue Ribbon Commission, with decades more research behind it, and years of medical marijuana evidence, can look into new recommendations for the 21st century.

On one hand, such a Presidential panel would buy time for the new administration to get settled in with more pressing priorities. But it would also give drug reformers a national platform to address so many issues that have been, forgive me, cultivated- since the Shafer Commission, from forfeiture laws to raids on dispensaries, from the THC content of marijuana to medicinal initiatives. It is time to look again at marijuana with a scholarly and clinical eye instead of with SWAT teams and law enforcement raids.

Correspondingly, it is also time for the national drug reform organizations to speak with a singular voice and work together for a common purpose. There needs to be a unity of purpose, and leaders from the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, and a host of other respected reform organizations, too many to mention here, should hold their own meeting to develop a common theme with a collective initiative. We need to work together to send a message that is enlightened and progressive, convincing legislators and the executive branch that we are responsible and right..

The drug reform movement needs to act in a way that President-elect Obama has asked all of us to move towards: not to be tied to the politics of the past and the way things have always been done, but to engage hope by broadening our constituency and reaching out to others. Within the drug reform movement, fratricide must come to an end. We must bury the hatchet on our own rivalries, and move forward with a common purpose. We defeat ourselves by ourselves when we do not.

Our cause is just, and our goals have always been righteous. We may have only ourselves to blame if we cannot achieve now what we have fought so long for. I would say our time is now, but I thought that in 1976 when the Attorney General of the United States, then Ramsey Clark, said we should see an end to unjust marijuana laws before the end of the decade. I think we are overdue. Together, let us do better than we have already done.

We have a President who is willing to listen, a Congress that is willing to learn, and a public that is salivating for a better solution.

NORM KENT is a criminal defense lawyer from Fort Lauderdale who serves on the Board of Directors for NORML www.norml.com He can be reached at Norm@normkent.com, and his law office website is www.normkent.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norm Kent, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NORML.

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail