The Obama Administration has hinted it might ease off the Drug War, at least a bit. This was greeted with a flurry of excitement among Legalization Movement people, celebrating it as a significant change. Many others dismissed it as a political gimmick. The statement “drug policy should be rooted in neuroscience not political science” being, in itself, political science at its worst: nice sounding rhetoric to gain political capital on a popular issue.
There has also been criticism that the shift from labeling things crimes, to labeling them mental problems, isn’t very progressive. Being sentenced to “treatment” is better than being sentenced to jail, but perhaps not by much. And with the federal government still refusing to acknowledge any medical uses for marijuana, that prospect of “mental problem” stigmatization applies to medical patients as well.
Mr. Obama’s own history of youthful marijuana indulgence is instructive. Becoming president seems to show that he did quite fine without any “treatment.”
Also instructive here is the parallel to the history of the Gay Rights Movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, progressive people led the campaign to depict homosexuality, not as an unspeakably depraved offense, but as a mental disease, for which the sufferer had no moral culpability, and which was possibly even amenable to “treatment.”
In 1975, in what was admittedly a bizarre process for what was purportedly to be a “scientific” question, the American Psychological Association determined, by vote at their annual meeting, that gaiety was a mental illness no longer. The World Health Organization followed suit in 1990.
It became afterward an “alternative lifestyle.” Still, decades would need to pass before residual criminal laws were wiped off the books; and in 2013 many states do not yet allow gay marriage.
This history shows the kinds of steps change takes, but it out present case, hopefully not that extended timeframe. The real issue here, is not whether the Administration’s step is in the right direction. The question is how big or small is that step — and for how long those steps will drag on before people can be free?