Last week, the American media celebrated President Obama’s 100th day in office, an occasion that they have been shamelessly over-hyping for a while now. So how has this guy, who promised profound change and supported rethinking some aspects of drug policy during his campaign, performed in his first 100 days?
Even before the campaign, Obama admitted to marijuana and cocaine use in his younger days as a top law student at Harvard. Personally, I find this hard to believe because I’m pretty sure you have to be a huge nerd to get into Harvard Law, but this could also be proof that these illicit drugs aren’t all that bad. Nonetheless, his comfort level with disclosing this information showed early on that he was able to be frank when discussing the taboo subject of drugs.
Once elected, the presidential transition Web site asked its visitors what subject they would like to see him tackle, and the overwhelming winner was legalizing marijuana. In response, Obama made a lame joke about stoners and instead of listening to the people, he declared that he was not in favor of federal legalization. The facts show marijuana prohibition is costly and counterproductive, and it’s unfortunate Obama wants to keep punishing people for smoking the same herb he used to smoke. It was also disheartening to see Obama put drug warriors such as his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who helped oversee Bill Clinton’s sharp escalation of the war on drugs, to top positions in his cabinet.
He did, however, come through with significant change on the issue of medical marijuana. The Bush administration somehow thought it was a good use of our tax dollars to have the DEA, fully armed with S.W.A.T. gear and assault rifles, raid dozens of medical cannabis clubs. The Republican Party, which loves to tout states’ rights when it comes to things like abortion or environmental protection, seems to lose its support when it comes to the issue of medical marijuana. Luckily, for the sake of our broke-ass government, the current administration will no longer continue to raid these tax-paying businesses.
President Obama also recently urged Congress to end the disparity in sentencing between cocaine in crack or powdered form. Under current law, which was passed in the mid-’80s, all you need is five grams of crack to receive a hefty five-year vacation in prison compared to the 500 grams of the much more expensive powdered form of cocaine needed for the same sentence. Minorities and those living in poverty disproportionately use crack over cocaine, and there is no other law that has such a gap between penalties for different forms of the same thing. Not that I’m condoning crack use, because it’s probably not the best choice you can make, but the United States needs to be more sensible when putting a person’s liberty on the line.
Overall, Obama has produced, or begun to produce, pretty significant change in America’s drug policy, at least in comparison to the Bush years. His appeal to reason in regards to medical marijuana and cocaine sentencing policies is something that the country has been needing for years. However, there is still more he can do. While recently accepting some of the responsibility for the Mexican drug wars on behalf of America, Obama blamed the violence on easy access to guns rather than the policies of prohibition that produce such high incentives for the business of drug trafficking. It’d be nice to see Obama lead based on the facts and not the politics on some more issues, but there’s no denying that the change we have seen so far on these issues has been encouraging.
Obama and Drugs After 100 Days: B+