....one pot-related arrest every 38 seconds

By enquirewithin · Aug 29, 2008 · ·
  1. enquirewithin
    What Will the Candidates Do to End the War on Drugs?
    Posted by Johann Hari, Huffington Post at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2008.


    On January 20th 2009, either the president of the United States will be a man who used cocaine, or the First Lady will be a former drug addict who stole from charity to get her next fix. In this presidential campaign, there are dozens of issues that have failed to flicker into the debate, but the most striking is the failing, flailing 'War on Drugs.' Isn't it a sign of how unwinnable this 'war' is that, if it was actually enforced evenly, either Barack Obama or Cindy McCain would have to skip the inauguration -- because they'd be in jail?
    At least their time in the slammer would feature some familiar faces: they could share a cell with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and some 46 percent of the US population.
    The prohibition of drugs is perhaps the most disastrous policy currently pursued by the US government. It hands a vast industry to armed criminal gangs, who proceed to kill at least excess 10,000 citizens a year to protect their patches. It exports this program of mass slaughter to Mexico, Colombia and beyond. It has been a key factor in reviving the Taliban in Afghanistan. It squanders tens of billions of dollars on prisons at home, ensuring that one in 31 adults in the US now in prison or on supervised release at any one time. And it has destroyed an entire generation of black men, who are now more likely to go to prison for drug offenses than to go to university.

    And for what? Prohibition doesn't stop people using drugs. Between 1972 and 1978, eleven US states decriminalized marijuana possession. So did hundreds of thousands of people rush out to smoke the now-legal weed? The National Research Council found that it had no effect on the number of dope-smokers. None. The people who had always liked it carried on; the people who didn't felt no sudden urge to start.
    So where's the debate? The candidates have spent more time discussing froth and fancies -- how much air is in your tires? -- than this $40bn-a-year 'war."
    They should be forced to listen to Michael Levine, who had a thirty year career as one of America's most distinguished federal narcotics agents. In his time, he infiltrated some of the biggest drugs cartels in the world -- and he now explains, in sad tones, that he wasted his time. In the early 1990s, he was assigned to eradicate drug-dealing from one New York street corner -- an easy enough task, surely? But he quickly learned that even this was physically impossible, given the huge demand for drugs. He calculated that he would need one thousand officers to be working on that corner for six months to make an impact -- and there were only 250 drugs agents in the whole city. One of the residents asked him, "If all these cops and agents couldn't get this one corner clean, what's the point of this whole damned drug war?"
    When Levine penetrated to the very top of la Mafia Cruenza, one of the biggest drug-dealing gangs in the world, he learned, as he puts it, "that not only did they not fear our war on drugs, they actually counted on it... On one undercover tape-recorded conversation, a top cartel chief, Jorge Roman, expressed his gratitude for the drug war, calling it 'a sham put on the American tax-payer' that was 'actually good for business'." He was right -- prohibition is the dealer's friend. They depend on it. They thrive on it, just as Al Capone thrived on alcohol prohibition. When Levine recounted these comments to his boss -- the officer in command of the paramilitary operation attacking South America -- he replied, "Yeah, we know [the police and military battles against drug gangs] don't work, but we sold the plan up and down the Potomac."
    Yet virtually no politicians are exposing this scandal. A rare and heroic exception is Jim Webb, Senator for Virginia. In his brilliant new book Born Fighting, he says "the hugely expensive antidrug campaigns we are waging around the world are basically futile." He even goes further, and exposes how this intersects with racism to create a monstrous injustice. The ACLU found in 2006 that although the races use drugs at the same rate, black Americans -- who comprise 12 percent of the population -- make up 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.
    Webb shows the human cost: "Even as I write these words, it is virtually certain that somewhere on the streets of Washington D.C. an eighteen year-old white kid from the Maryland or North Virginia suburbs is buying a stash of drugs from an eighteen year-old black kid. The white kid is going to take that stash back to the suburbs and make some quick money by selling it to other kids." He will grow up and grow out of it, and one day -- as a wealthy professional -- he will "look back on his drug use just as recreational and joke about it... just one more little rebellion on the way to adulthood."
    But the black kid "will enter a hell from which he may never recover." He is likely to be arrested, and to go to prison. "Prison life will change the black kid, harden him, mess up his mind, and redefine his self-image. And after he is released from prison, the black kid will be dragging an invisible ball and chain behind him for the rest of his life... By the time the white kid reaches fifty years of age, he may well be a judge. By the time the black kid reaches fifty, he will likely be permanently unemployable, will be ineligible for many government assistance programs, and will not even be able to vote." Barack Obama only narrowly missed this fate. He would not be the Great Black Hope he deserves to be; he wouldn't even be allowed to cast a ballot in 2008.
    Of course, ending drug prohibition may seem impossible now. But in 1924, even as vociferous a wet as Clarence Darrow was in despair, writing that it would require "a political revolution" to legalize alcohol in the US. Within a decade, it was done.
    Before this campaign is out, Obama needs to be asked: do you really think you should be in jail? McCain needs to be asked: do you really think your wife should be in jail? Both need to be asked: do you really think 46 percent of Americans should be criminalized? And if not, what are you going to do to begin ending this mad, unwinnable 'war on drugs'?

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  1. Expat98
    Obama has already said a lot about the issue of medical marijuana, saying that he would end federal intervention and let states make their own rules. There have been several threads about this. See this one for example:

    Will the next president ease up on med MJ?

    McCain OTOH seems to have, as Heretic Ape put it, a "head full of rocks" on this issue.

    It would be unwise for Obama to speak out against the War on Drugs before the election, other than the medical marijuana issue. As Panthers007 has often noted, the War on Drugs is the third rail in American politics - Touch it and you're dead.

    But Obama is a smart and progressive guy and I feel confident that he understands the folly of the militaristic approach to the drug war. Let's hope he gets into office. He will not make drug policy a key issue in his administration, and it would be politically impossible for him to end the WoD even if he tried to. But at least it probably won't get even worse during his administration, and maybe he can begin to bring about the changes necessary to eventually end it. I don't see him signing any more Plan Merida deals like Bush did.
  2. enquirewithin
    Perhaps, but as he has already committed himself to continuing the US's GWOT (more and more war) and grovelled before Isreal, don't expect any real changes from him. Of course, McCain would probaly be much worse.
  3. Coconut
    Two sides of the same coin. Either way, the people (and the world) lose.

    I have occasionally kept an eye on the Obama campaign and all I have seen is another puppet in the making. His policies appear to be moving further and further towards the "mainstream". He has even allied himself with Clinton! I know they are both Democrats but come on, the woman is clearly a warmongering lunatic who froths at the mouth at the mere thought of power.

    As enquirewithin has said, do not expect any real changes if Obama is elected. The war on drugs will trundle on.
  4. enquirewithin
    :) True. The democrats, from their record, do not get better but worse after election. To quote one Chris Hedges:

  5. Expat98
    This thread is specifically about drug policy, so that's what my comments were referring to. On the issue of drug policy, I think we can expect some improvements with an Obama presidency, at least on the medical marijuana issue. (See the thread I linked to above.) With McCain on the other hand, it would be, to use the Democrats' campaign slogan, "More of the Same".

    Members of Drugs Forum who are U.S. voters need to be aware of the differences between these two candidates on drug policy.
  6. enquirewithin
    US DF users would be advised to vote for Obama over McCain, of course, but they should also realise that he is becoming less and less liberal as he gets nearer to possible power and not to expect much from him. Hopefully, he will be sympathic to medical MJ as MAPs suggest.
  7. Coconut
    I'm aware that Obama appears more likely to support medical marijuana programmes, but as enquirewithin has highlighted, I believe the two candidates are becoming less distinguishable from one another as power draws nearer. I sincerely hope you're right, but I am expecting Obama to do nothing to ease the war on drugs if elected.
  8. enquirewithin
    Whilst perhaps not as dumb as Palin, Biden has some sadly predictable views on the War on Drugs.


    Obama's Biden Pick Signals 'More of the Same' Stupid Drug Policies
    By Paul Armentano, AlterNet. September 6, 2008.


    Voters who hoped that Barack Obama's call for "change" would include revamping U.S. drug policy are finding themselves with reasons to be skeptical.
    First there was Obama's flip-flop-flip-flop on the subject of decriminalizing marijuana. Speaking at Northwestern University in January 2004, Obama called America's so-called "war on drugs" an "utter failure," and recommended, "(W)e need to rethink and decriminalize our (nation's) marijuana laws." (Obama's candid remarks, though out of step politically, echo public sentiment. Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans endorsed the policy in a 2002 CNN/Time Magazine poll, and 12 state legislatures have already enacted versions of pot decriminalization -- replacing criminal penalties with fine-only sanctions.)
    Nevertheless, Obama reversed his pro-pot position during a televised November 2007 MSNBC debate, raising his hand to indicate his opposition to the policy. Following the debate, a spokesman for Obama claimed that the candidate had misunderstood the moderator's question and declared that Obama had, in fact, "always" supported decriminalization. Hours later, however, when presented with video footage of Obama's 2004 statements, the campaign reversed course once again, stating to the Washington Times that the Democratic nominee opposed decriminalizing weed.
    Since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama has voiced almost no criticism regarding America's punitive drug policies (despite his previous "utter failure" evaluation). As senator, Obama has championed popular anti-drug legislation like the "Combat Meth Act" and has lobbied in favor of increased funding for drug courts and U.S. drug interdiction efforts south of the border.
    Nevertheless, many progressives believe -- perhaps rightly -- that Obama's prior admissions of illicit drug use (which the candidate now describes, without further elaboration, as a "mistake"), coupled with his apparent nonideological, holistic approach to public policy, indicates a willingness to move American drug policy away from the moralist, "do drugs, do time" attitudes associated with the Bush administration. If so, then the sudden pairing with Democrat drug war hawk Joe Biden becomes that much more distressing.
    During his 35 years in Congress, political observers note that no Democrat has sponsored "more damaging drug war legislation" than Joe Biden. Biden led the charge in the Senate for passage of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which -- among its numerous notorious provisions -- re-established mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, expanded the use of federal asset forfeiture laws, and established the racially biased 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for the possession of crack versus powder cocaine. (During the mid-'80s, it was hardly unusual for "liberals" such as Biden to endorse punitive drug policies, which at the time enjoyed virtually unanimous support from Congress.) Biden recently offered a mea culpa regarding his former support for the disproportionate sentencing provision, rationalizing, "Our intentions were good, but much of our information was bad."
    Biden was also a key architect of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which enacted mandatory sentences for minor crack cocaine possession (five years in prison for possession of more than 5 grams), redefined low-level drug mules as drug "conspirators" (allowing these defendants to face the same penalties as drug kingpins), instituted random workplace drug testing programs for public employees, and established the multibillion-dollar anti-drug propaganda wing of the White House known as the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the federal agency responsible for creating the television ads that claimed that pot smoking sponsors international terrorism -- or at least makes you pregnant). The executive director of the ONDCP, dubbed by Biden as America's "drug czar," was eventually elevated in 1993 to that of a presidential Cabinet position -- arguably the only U.S. Cabinet position that, by law, is mandated to lie to the American public.
    More than three decades in Congress have done little to quench Biden's drug war lust. In 2001, Delaware's senior senator grilled then drug czar appointee -- now acting drug czar lunatic -- John Walters for several hours over concerns that he might not be tough enough to spearhead America's drug war. Biden also sponsored federal anti-paraphernalia legislation forbidding the interstate sale of glass pipes, bongs and rolling papers. (In 2003, Hollywood actor and comedian Tommy Chong was sentenced to nine months in federal prison for violating the statute. Nevertheless, in an August interview on the "Dr. Drew" syndicated radio show, Chong admitted that he supports the Obama-Biden ticket -- a decision that, if nothing else, illustrates the view among many reformers that regardless of how bad the Dems might be on the drug issue, a McCain-Palin administration would undoubtedly be worse.)
    More recently, Biden authored the so-called RAVE Act (aka the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act) -- clandestinely enacted into law in 2003 as a rider to federal "Amber Alert" legislation -- which permits federal law enforcement to prosecute business owners and event organizers who hold concerts where illicit drug use takes place. The congressman was also instrumental in the passage of the domestic COPS program, which sought to add some 100,000 new law enforcement officers to the state and federal payrolls, as well as expend funding for the Department of Justice, the FBI and the DEA.
    Biden is also a staunch supporter of U.S. anti-drug efforts abroad, such as Plan Columbia and Plan Afghanistan, and has even espoused for the use of mycoherbicides such as Fusarium oxysporum -- a genetically engineered fungal plant killer -- in illicit crop eradication efforts. (Fortunately for the planet, more rational minds -- at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, of all places -- nixed the idea, deciding that the deliberate spread of such toxic pathogens would be unsafe for the environment.)
    In recent months, Biden has called for a nationwide smoking ban, demanded stricter penalties for those who violate "drug free school zone" laws, and spoken out against efforts to lower the national drinking age to 18. (On the flip side, Biden -- like his running mate -- has expressed verbal support for ending the federal prosecution of state-authorized medical marijuana patients and providers, though both candidates continue to express skepticism regarding the drug's therapeutic use.) Finally, this past July, Biden introduced one of the more laughable pieces of anti-drug legislation in congressional history: Senate Bill 3351, which seeks to crack down on drug traffickers who captain unregistered submarines in international waters. Fortunately, unlike many of his previous efforts, SB3351 lacks the ability to put tens of thousands of Americans -- particularly those of color -- in prison.
    So should progressives cite Obama's tapping of Biden as reason to abandon all hope for drug law reform? Not necessarily, though the notable absence of the subject at the Democratic National Convention will likely give some folks -- this author included -- yet another reason to be cynical.
    Bottom line: No administration since the Carter administration has proactively taken steps to liberalize federal drug penalties, and there's little indication that Obama and Biden will possess either the desire or the political will to buck this long-running trend.
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