The War on Drugs: Has Obama Changed Anything?

The War on Drugs: Has Obama Changed Anything?

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?

  • Mike

    Thanks for the excellent analysis of Obama as a disappointment to millions of those who elected him. I’m not real optimistic here. The man prefers soothing rhetoric to living up to the hopes he’s raised unless he is forced by the mass of popular demand to take a better position.

    One thing I particularly liked about your analysis was its incisive look at the parallels between the struggles of the marijuana community and the gender rights community. Right on. I live in a community where there’s lot of overlap between these groups. It’s small enough that we’ve all realized we need to stick together in order to confront the forces of repression effectively. A big lesson learned — and shared with immigration rights activism — is that NO ONE IS ILLEGAL.

    The other lesson that’s also important is that HUMAN RIGHTS IS NOT A ZERO SUM GAME. When a group sees their standing in our communities fully recognized, it is a net gain for everyone, no matter how we describe ourselves and our affiliations with our own community and those of others. And that is another reason why every person’s fight against oppression is important to everyone one else. They might be able to counter us individually or in small groups, but all of us together are string enough now to claim majority status for a diverse America.

    Thus, it pays to remember that being gay, lesbian or anything but hetero actually made you a criminal. That has thankfully passed into the dustbin of history.

    The polls — and the American people — clearly support an end to the war on marijuana, now, not later. Is Mr. Obama listening? Now that he no longer needs our votes, who knows, given his weak record on this issue?

    Declaring millions of us criminals just hasn’t worked and never will. It’s time to end this gracefully and quickly. The majority who supports an end to this war doesn’t all smoke, but they sure know a policy pig in a poke when they see it. Putting lipstick on it won’t do any good and will simply irritate the pig.

    People who enjoy marijuana are still in the position of having the powerful sanction them with full blown repression. Even that is beginning to pass now with WA and CO gone legal, but who really wants to be the last victim in this war on ourselves? We all need to keep pressing and get this over. Too many have suffered already. Our mantra should soon turn to Not One More Drug Prisoner!

  • firetheliberals

    Get two more states to legalize recreational weed in 2014 and Obama will yield. I believe they think it is a passing fad.

    The colorado hemp farmers will be planting soon, lets see how the deareacts

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