New Administration, Drug Reform?
The United States is in a unique position to push drug reform because of the new administration, but the opportunity, so far, is passing by.
By: Craig Bergquist
Before the campaign trail for the presidency started, Obama made clear statements regarding his opinion of the United States drug policy. “The war on drugs has been an utter failure, and I think that we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws.”
Obama had also expressed his concerns involving the severity of drug punishments. “Selling 15 tablets of Ecstasy is the same class of felony as raping a woman at knife point,” he noted. Obama's strong stance would not survive the campaign trail ahead.
Slowly as his popularity grew in the election, Obama's stance softened. He went from the strong “We need to rethink our marijuana laws” stance to the “persecution of medical marijuana is not a priority.” Unfortunately, this is the kind of ambiguity that was required for the transition from Senator to President. However, now that he is in office, he no longer has to worry about winning over conservative votes. With a president that has admitted cocaine and marijuana use, the opportunity is in place for a smooth federal transition.
Many states are already stepping up and taking the initiative. For example as of this January in Massachusetts marijuana possession of less than an ounce has been decriminalized. Jail time for minor possession has been replaced with a $100 fine and marijuana prosecution is officially not a state priority. This is the kind of change that we were promised. Now to see it instituted on a federal level is another mater.
Few men could be closer to the issue of drugs than Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and he seems to think that the new administration is anything but progressive. Recently in a speech he asked, "Is there a new government in the United States or is it Bush still in power? Obama seems to be a continuation of the Bush-era.” He continued, "The Obama administration has again attacked Venezuela. He said that Venezuela and I, even citing my name, do not cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking. The country that most supports drug trafficking on this planet is the United States,” Chavez stated. Chavez sees no policy changes yet, and neither do I.
Despite promises, Obama is not taking a hard stance regarding softening drug penalties. On whitehouse.gov, drug reform is not even among the issues listed. Additionally, searching the site for “drug” brings up issues such as health care and senior citizens benefits rather than the promised reform.
Currently, the stimulus package has been dominating the federal news. It may require the economic crisis to pass before their attention will be turned elsewhere. However that could take months, or even years. Until then, the fight will continue on the state level. As time goes on, I suspect that more states will follow the examples already set of reasonable drug policy. Thankfully for once, Alaska is ahead of the curve.