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Watch MPP debate ONDCP in D.C. Wednesday evening

Dear friends:

The Georgetown chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy is hosting a debate between MPP assistant director of communications Dan Bernath and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy chief counsel Ed Jurith at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3. The debate will take place at The Georgetown University Law Center in McDonough Hall. The topic of the debate will be medical marijuana.

Attendance is free and open to the public. Attendees must bring a valid photo ID. After the debate, there will be a question and answer session with the audience.

WHAT: Medical marijuana debate between MPP assistant director of communications Dan Bernath and ONDCP chief counsel Ed Jurith
WHEN: 6:30 pm on December 3, 2008
WHERE: The Georgetown University Law Center in McDonough Hall (600 New Jersey Ave NW), room 203

In 1998, 69% of Washington, D.C., voters supported an initiative to allow sick and dying patients to use medical marijuana. However, Congress has prevented the law from being implemented, so seriously ill District residents are still subject to arrest and prosecution for using medical marijuana. If you live in the District, please take a moment now to urge your councilmembers to pass a resolution calling on Congress to respect the will of D.C. voters and allow the medical marijuana law to take effect.

Thank you for supporting MPP. I hope you will be able to attend the debate on Wednesday evening.

Sincerely,

Zane Hurst
Legislative Analyst
Marijuana Policy Project

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Clemency: President Bush Commutes Cocaine Sentences for Two, Grants 12 Pardons

The US Justice Department announced Tuesday that President Bush Monday had commuted the sentences of two people imprisoned for cocaine trafficking, including rapper and former Fugees producer John Forte, and pardoned 12 others, including three more people who had been convicted of drug-related offenses.

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many more pardons are needed
Pardons are typically granted to persons convicted of a crime who have served their sentences -- the Justice Department recommends waiting five years after that to apply for a pardon -- while commutations typically cut the sentences of those still imprisoned, usually to time served, or in this case December 22.

Presidents typically issue pardons at year's end and especially at term's end, but President Bush has been comparatively stingy. So far, he has granted a total of 171 pardons and eight commutations. That's less than half as many as either President Clinton or President Reagan during their two terms. Perhaps it's a case of like father, like son: President George Herbert Walker Bush pardoned only 74 people during his four years in office.

Those pardoned for drug-related offenses were:

  • Andrew Foster Harley, Falls Church, Virginia.
    Offense: Wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine, Article 112a, Uniform Code of Military Justice.
    Sentence: April 17, 1985, as approved June 13, 1985; US Air Force general court martial convened at the US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado; 90 days' confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and dismissal from the Air Force.
  • Robert Earl Mohon Jr., Grant, Alabama.
    Offense: Conspiracy to distribute marijuana; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846.
    Sentence: Oct. 22, 1987; Northern District of Alabama; three years in prison.
  • Ronald Alan Mohrhoff, Los Angeles
    Offense: Unlawful use of a telephone in furtherance of a narcotics felony, 21 U.S.C. § 843(b); possession of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. § 844(a).
    Sentence: Oct. 9, 1984; Central District of California; one year of in prison followed by five years' probation with the special condition of 2,500 hours of community service.

Those whose sentences were commuted:

  • John Edward Forte, North Brunswick, New Jersey
    Offense: Aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(ii), 18 U.S.C. § 2.
    Sentence: Nov. 20, 2001; Southern District of Texas; 168 months in prison, five years' supervised release and a $5,000 fine.
    Terms of commutation: Sentence of imprisonment to expire on Dec. 22, 2008, leaving intact and in effect the five year term of supervised release with all its conditions.
  • James Russell Harris, Detroit, Michigan.
    Offense: Conspiracy to aid and abet the distribution of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. § 846; attempted money laundering, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(a)(3) and 2; aiding and abetting the attempted distribution of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); conspiracy to affect interstate commerce by obtaining property under color of official right, 18 U.S.C. § 1951; attempt to affect interstate commerce by obtaining property under color of official right, 18 U.S.C. § 1951.
    Sentence: May 10, 1993; Eastern District of Michigan; 360 months in prison, five years' supervised release and a $50,000 fine.
    Terms of clemency grant: Unpaid balance of fine remitted; sentence of imprisonment commuted to expire on Dec. 22, 2008, leaving intact and in effect the five year term of supervised release with all its conditions save the obligation to satisfy the unpaid balance of the fine.

Forte is the only one with a public profile. He co-wrote and produced two songs on the Fugees 1996 Grammy Award winner "The Score," and released two rap albums himself, including one with a track featuring a duet with Carly Simon. Forte got busted flying into Newark International Airport with 31 pounds of liquid cocaine in 2000.

Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told the Associated Press she applauded Bush's decision to commute the sentences. She told the AP sentences for many "low-level, first-time, nonviolent drug offenders" don't fit the crime.

According to the latest statistics from the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are currently more than 98,000 people doing time for drug offenses in the federal system.

Feature: The Kids Are Alright -- The SSDP 10th International Conference

Buoyed by this month's election results and jazzed by the prospects for change with a new administration in Washington, some 450 student activists converged on the University of Maryland campus in College Park last weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the group's annual international conference.

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first evening gathering (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
Hosted by University of Maryland SSDP, traditionally one of the national group's staunchest chapters, the conference saw students come from across the nation and at least two foreign countries for three days of education, training in effective activism, and hands-on lobbying on Capitol Hill. Among the attendees were representatives of Canadian SSDP, buoyed by their own national conference, the organization's second, attended by 250 people earlier this month.

For both SSDP veterans and newcomers alike, the conference provided opportunities for networking, inspiration, and education. For some of the younger attendees, it was an eye-opener.

"I didn't realize how many people were involved in this," said SSDP national office intern Ericha Richards, a freshman at American University. "It's exciting!"

Jimmy Devine of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire has been attending for several years, but still found plenty to get excited about. "It's always good to come to national, to see what the other chapters have been up to, and to meet old friends," he said. "And we're always looking for new ideas to take back with us."

On Friday, led by Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbyist Aaron Houston, the students spent the morning polishing up on lobbying basics, then visited with representatives or their staffers to push for reductions in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Students reported mixed results, but that's no surprise, and even with representatives on the wrong side of the issues, lobbying is part of changing minds -- and votes.

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Rep. Danny Davis (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
On Saturday and Sunday, students gathered at the University of Maryland student union for two days of panels and training in activism. Saturday morning, they heard from movement leaders, who described the chances of drug reform at the federal level in coming years with varying degrees of optimism. With the Democratic sweep of the presidency and the Congress, the prospects have improved, but big obstacles remain, the students heard.

"This election was about change," said MPP's Houston. "It's a very exciting time, so why aren't we doing back flips?" he asked. Drug reform may get short shrift in an Obama administration faced with a free-falling economy and foreign crises, Houston answered himself. "We're walking into favorable conditions, but there are a lot of issues facing Obama and the Congress."

But the economic crisis could lead to opportunity, he said. "We have huge economic problems, and this could be the time to start talking about taxing and regulating marijuana. That could generate $10 to $14 billion a year for the federal treasury," he said.

"Change is going to happen," said Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. Wolf ticked off an ACLU reform wish list of rescheduling marijuana, ending the government monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes, ending the selective prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers, abolishing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, and banning racial profiling.

"I'm hugely optimistic about the prospects for change in Congress," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), citing support for ending the federal funding ban on syringe exchange and reducing or eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity among highly placed Democrats. "We are over the hump," the Capitol Hill veteran said. "People are not afraid any more to talk about drug policy, and we have key committee chairs on our side. We will repeal the syringe ban and reduce sentencing disparities," he predicted.

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police militarization panel, featuring Reason's Radley Balko, StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden, SWAT raid victim Mayor Cheye Calvo of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, moderated by Alison Grimmer of Roosevelt University SSDP
But Piper was also looking just a bit further down the road then next year's Congress. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) comes up for reauthorization in 2010, he noted. Rather than try futilely to eliminate the office, "we can try to shift ONDCP's goals" to a more public health-oriented approach, he suggested.

"Marijuana is more popular than the past three presidents," MPP executive director Rob Kampia told a cheering audience as he recounted this year's victories for medical marijuana in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts.

Student activists took no back seat to the professionals, though, and the breadth of reform efforts by SSDP chapters, and number of campuses leading or helping with them was impressive. Conference-goers got to hear about campus campaigns ranging from establishing safe ride programs (reducing intoxicated driving without exposing students to threat of penalty); good Samaritan overdose policies (neither the student needing medical help nor the student reporting it facing threat of arrest); getting schools to stop calling police into dorms for drug infractions; reforming dorm eviction policies for substance violations; working with ballot initiative campaigns such as those in Michigan and Berkeley; public education efforts; and state lobbying campaign; among others.

One chapter, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, seemed to have done almost everything, and all during its first year. At the annual Awards Banquet, where representatives received the Outstanding Chapter Award, a raft of impressive achievements were listed off in the introduction. Not only did Kalamazoo SSDP get a safe ride program established, and Good Samaritan and not calling police into dorms for minor drug violation policies established. They also went outside the campus to bring together a coalition of community groups, government agencies and law enforcement to get approval for a needle exchange program in the city for the first time.

One highlight of the conference was the Saturday lunch debate between SSDP executive director Kris Krane and Kevin Sabet of Students Taking Action Not Drugs. The back and forth between the two, moderated by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, kept the audience rapt -- and scoring the debate like a boxing match.

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Krane/Sabet debate, Washington Post's Courtland Milloy moderating
Sabet, in what must have felt like hostile territory, did his best to try to establish "common ground" with drug reformers, citing his support for addressing the crack/powder disparity and qualifying some of drug czar John Walters' policies as "stupid politics." He also cited as models programs like North Carolina's Project HOPE, where probationers and parolees confronted by positive drug tests are not sent back to prison, but are hit with quick, short jail stays. "That's a huge motivation," Sabet argued.

If Sabet was looking for agreement from Krane or the audience, he didn't find much of it. "Our metrics in the war on drugs are wrong," said Krane. "We should be measuring abuse, problem use, infection rates -- not drug use rates," he argued. "You have to get arrested to get treatment, and that's backwards," he said.

Instead of being based on the Holy Grail of reducing drug use, drug policy should have different guiding principles, Krane argued. "First, no one should be punished for using drugs absent harm to others. Second, we should adopt a harm reduction framework, and third, we should adopt a human rights framework."

"Drug use doesn't occur in a vacuum," Sabet retorted. "A lot of drug use is problematic, and some of that can be addressed by dealing with poverty, health care, and homelessness. There is common ground," he tried again.

Not so quick, Krane replied, arguing that drug use should be treated as a public health problem, not the purview of law enforcement.

"Drug trafficking is not a public health problem, it's a law enforcement problem," Sabet countered.

"Drug trafficking is a prohibition problem, not a law enforcement problem," Krane retorted to cheers from the crowd.

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David Guard and Pete Guither prepare for ''Elevator Arguments'' panel
After the spirited back and forth between Sabet and Krane, attendees were treated to an address by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who zeroed in on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. "One of the most egregious aspects of our drug policy is the racial inequity," he said, reeling off the now familiar statistics about African-Americans sucked into the drug war incarceration machine and urging support for re-entry and rehabilitation efforts for prisoners. "If we can reduce crime and recidivism, if we can help these prisoners, if we can train and educate them, we are helping all of America," Davis said.

Davis, too, pronounced himself optimistic. "There is a sense of hope that we can develop a sane policy in the way we treat drugs," he told the students, "but you have to stay engaged and involved. You have to believe change is not only possible, it's inevitable."

If Saturday was a day of panelists and speechifying, Sunday was for getting down to nuts and bolts as the young activists attended a plethora of sessions hosted by more experienced veterans. Students heard presentations on best practices for chapter organizing, fundraising, making quick reform arguments, networking, working the media, and working with youth communities, and looking beyond campus reform, among others. And the lunch session was a working one, with activists dividing up geographically and deciding on locations for regional conferences to be held in the spring.

From its beginning with a handful of students in the Northeast in 1998 outraged by the Higher Education Act's drug provision, SSDP has grown to an international organization with 140 campus chapters in the US, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Nigeria. With all they learned at this year's conference, the newest generation of drug reform activists is now headed back home to spread the message and the movement to the next generation.

Visit the Drug WarRant blog for Pete Guither's seven-part series of live-written reports from the conference.


UMD SSDP window, Stamp Student Center

Drug Czar Suddenly Starts Telling the Truth

With drug czar John Walters’ term coming to an end shortly, we’re beginning to see some really strange stuff coming from his office. Pete Guither and Bruce Mirken both have good examples. Are they getting careless over there?

Obama's Drug Czar?

You Can Make a Difference

Dear friends,

You have an opportunity right now to influence one of the most important choices President-elect Obama will make. The media is reporting that he is considering nominating Republican Congressman James Ramstad (MN/3rd) to be his “drug czar”. It’s easy to understand why. Rep. Ramstad is in recovery from substance abuse (alcohol) and has a long track record in support of increasing access to drug treatment. Ramstad, however, is still mostly wedded to the failed punitive drug war policies of the last 30 thirty years.

For instance, Ramstad has voted against medical marijuana five times. He has voted against making sterile syringes more available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS three times. Even though his colleagues are increasingly supporting sentencing reform, including eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity, he hasn’t stood up on the issue.

In other words, Rep. Ramstad does not appear to be committed to the kind of change President-elect Obama has said he will bring to our nation’s drug policies. 

Obama needs to hear from you, and is making it easy for you to contact him through his website. Will you take a minute today to urge Obama to choose a drug czar who will champion reform?

The Drug Policy Alliance believes our nation’s next drug czar should be chosen based on the following criteria:

  1. Are they committed to enacting and supporting evidence-based policies? ONDCP should make decisions based on science, not politics or ideology.
  2. Are they committed to reducing the harms associated with both drugs and punitive drug laws? We need a new bottom line for U.S. drug policy.
  3. Do they think drug use should be treated as a health issue not a criminal justice issue? To paraphrase former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, we need a surgeon general not a military general or police officer.
  4. Do they welcome and encourage debate and research? We need a drug czar who is open-minded and willing to consider every alternative.
  5. Are they committed to reducing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars? Our country’s next drug czar should be fully committed to major sentencing reform.

Who President-elect Obama chooses as his drug czar will affect everyone. DPA is working over-time to influence that decision but we need your help. Please let Obama know that you want him to nominate a drug czar who supports marijuana law reform, syringe availability and treatment-instead-of-incarceration. 

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

Latin America: Bolivia's Morales Says Yes to Obama, No to the DEA

Bolivian President Evo Morales said at a Monday news conference at the UN that he would like to improve ties with the incoming administration of Barack Obama, but that the DEA would not be allowed back in Bolivia during the remainder of his term. The comments signal an effort to restore ties with the US that were badly frayed during the Bush administration while still retaining Bolivian sovereignty over its drug control policies.

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Evo Morales, probably holding a coca branch
"My interest is how to improve relations with the new president," Morales said after addressing the UN General Assembly. "I think we could have a lot of things in common.
If we talk about change I have some experience now," he said, referring to the Obama presidential campaign's slogans based on the need for change. "I think it would be good to share experiences with the new president-elect."

Morales, a former coca grower union leader who became the first indigenous person to become Bolivia's leader, compared himself to Obama, who is the first black man to win the US presidency. Better relations between the two countries would have to be based on "respect from one government to another," Morales said.

There has been tension between the US and Morales over his "zero cocaine, but not zero coca" policies, under which Bolivian farmers in certain areas are allowed to grow coca for traditional and industrial uses. But because the Morales government appears committed to battling the cocaine trade, US criticism of his coca policies was muted until recently.

In response to what it called US meddling in its internal affairs, Bolivia has this fall undertaken a number of measures to hit back. It ordered USAID to leave the Chapare coca growing region, and after unrest from right-wing separatists resulted in bloody conflict in September, Morales expelled the US ambassador. The US retaliated by expelling Bolivia's ambassador to Washington and by "decertifying" Bolivia as not cooperating in US drug war goals. After that, Morales first barred over-flights by US drug surveillance planes and then, two weeks ago threw the DEA out of the country.

"The DEA will not return whilst I am still president," Morales said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. Nor does he want US anti-drug aid. He said he was working with other countries in the fight against drug trafficking. "We've discussed matters with Brazil, Russia and France, where they manufacture helicopters," he said. "We want to buy some, perhaps using emergency loans. There is interest in South American countries and Europe to join together to fight against a common problem, which is drug trafficking."

And Washington is the odd man out. Perhaps overall relations will warm with an Obama presidency, but not if the US insists that the DEA be allowed back.

Australia: Hemp Production Now Legal in New South Wales

American hemp consumers still can't grow their own, but as of this week, they now have one more choice of where to import it from. The state government of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, Wednesday approved large-scale hemp farming and is set to begin considering license applications under the new plan.

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hemp plants (Luke Zigovitz for votehemp.com)
Hemp, the lanky, minimal-THC cousin to recreational marijuana, produces oils used in foods and balms, as well as fibers that are used in in clothing, cosmetics, livestock and animal feeds, and building materials, among other things. The US DEA considers hemp to be marijuana and bars its cultivation to the US, although due to a federal appeals court ruling, it has been blocked in its efforts to ban hemp imports or the sale of hemp products here.

Hemp is also environmentally friendly. It requires little water and grows quickly. In the US Midwest, feral hemp plants grow in abundance more than 60 years after fields were planted during World War II's "Hemp For Victory" campaign and then destroyed after the war.

"Industrial hemp has the potential to provide farmers with a much-needed additional fast-growing summer crop option that can be used in rotation with winter grain crops," said the Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, in remarks reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's a potentially lucrative industry due to its environmentally friendly nature."

Under the Hemp Industry Act regulations, farmers must be licensed, fields must be audited and regularly inspected, and police must test the crop to ensure that it has insignificant THC levels.

Some 200 people have contacted the Department of Primary Industries to inquire about growing hemp, the Morning Herald reported.

Australia will now join Canada, China, and a number of European countries as hemp producers. The US will continue to import the hemp it consumes. Tough luck, American farmers.

Feature: Obama's Appointees Raise Questions in the Drug Reform Community

Like other interest groups, the drug reform movement has the Obama transition under a microscope, searching for clues on the new administration's intentions as it scrutinizes those appointments for positions that are going to be key to advancing the cause. Some of the Obama transition team's early moves have some drug reformers sounding alarm bells, but other reformers -- not so much.

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Eric Holder -- not the reformer's dream pick
Drug reformers were not particularly enthralled with Obama's vice-president selection, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), who made a career authoring drug war legislation. Biden can rightfully claim to be the father of the drug czar's office, he was a big fan of harsh sentencing laws, he crafted the horrid RAVE Act. Never encountering a "drug problem" that couldn't be fixed with another federal criminal law, Biden most recently authored a bill that would criminalize being on board a home-made submarine carrying drugs.

While Biden may have begun to see the light in recent years -- he is author of one of the best bills seeking to address the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity (which he helped create) -- drug reformers remain deeply suspicious of a man who built a political power base on the shoulders of the assembled ranks of law enforcement.

Nor did the appointment of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) as White House chief of staff alleviate concerns. While the sharp-elbowed political operative has not been a leading drug warrior, neither has he shied from using drug war discourse as a weapon against his political foes.

One oft-cited example of Emanuel's penchant for drug war rhetoric came a decade ago, when he defended the Clinton administration's unconstitutional effort to punish physicians who recommended medical marijuana to patients. "We are going to continue to find ways within the administration to fight legalization and the notion of legalization," he said in an interview. "We're against the message that [California's medical marijuana initiative] sends to children," Emanuel demagogued. (Emanuel, now a member of Congress, did vote for the pro-medical marijuana Hinchey amendment in July of last year.)

This week's announcement that former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder would be nominated for the Attorney General post did little to allay mounting fears that Obama was filling key positions for drug policy with Clinton-era drug war holdovers. Some were quick to point to Holder's time as US Attorney for the District of Columbia, when he pushed through changes in DC's marijuana laws that made sales a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

As the Washington Post reported:

In addition, US Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the DC Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana. "We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling.

Holder said he hopes to discourage some of that activity by being tougher on marijuana crimes. New guidelines should be in place by the end of the month, he said, noting that the District could learn from New York's "zero-tolerance" policy. There, crime plummeted when police aggressively enforced quality-of-life crimes, including panhandling and public drinking, which gave officers an opportunity to check for drugs, guns and outstanding warrants.

That same year, he told the Washington Times he was considering proposing a mandatory-minimum 18-month sentence for any marijuana sales. That, at least, didn't happen.

Drug reformers took some small solace, however, from Holder's comments on mandatory minimum sentencing in a 1999 interview. Responding to a question about whether it was time to review mandatory minimums, Holder said:

I do not think that we should ever foreclose the possibility that we take a look at how the laws that we have passed are working. I tend to think that mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things. I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask.

I do not go into it with a presumption that they're necessarily bad, but we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences?

Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask. And as thinking legislators on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, I would hope that we would ask those questions and then go into it with an open mind.

With drug war cheerleaders like Biden and Emanuel and professional drug warriors like Holder being invited to join the Obama team, drug reformers are understandably skittish. But most are taking a wait and see attitude, even as they bemoan some of Obama's choices.

"Some of the appointments, such as Holder, are certainly concerning," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There is some problematic stuff in the past, yes, but people do change and learn. Who would have thought that a drug warrior like Bob Barr would end up as a Libertarian?" Mirken asked. "I don't think that because somebody said or did something we disagreed with a decade ago, he is necessarily bound to those same positions now, but we will be watching closely. If the time comes to freak out, we will, but it's premature to freak out now."

The reform community should not be freaking out, agreed Eric Sterling, who served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and now heads the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Instead, it should be trying to flex its muscles.

"I think the reform community is way overreacting and, more importantly, not taking the initiative," he said "Reform leaders ought to be asking themselves what letters they've written to President-elect Obama, what letters to the editor they've penned, what op-eds they've submitted. Is the movement doing anything other than passively reacting?" he asked.

"Our movement has been under such assault for the past eight years that we're really out of practice in being effective political actors," Sterling argued. "I just contacted [the left-leaning magazine] In These Times suggesting an article about taxing marijuana as a way to prevent the lay-off of public employees. Our movement should be reaching out to people like the public employee unions, maybe buying ads saying 'No teacher should be fired until the legislature tells us how many legal marijuana could pay for.'"

"What you can say about Emanuel and these other people is that they are political and will respond to pressure," said Sterling. "If Emanuel thought our issues were good politics, he would be standing on the ramparts, but it's not good politics because we haven't made it good politics. It's not enough to mobilize the drug reform aficionados, we have to be working with much more powerful organizations and interest groups around issues they care about. The dire situation with the economy right now and the lack of revenues for state and local governments is a tremendous opportunity for us, exactly like 1933 in that sense. What did they do then? They ended Prohibition and taxed alcohol."

Marijuana does not enjoy the same cultural favor that alcohol did, Sterling noted, but that can be overcome. "We need to frame the issue in very stark economic terms. We need to be asking who is going to teach our kids? How are we going to pay for teachers? If the state taxing marijuana is the only way to pay for teachers, should we do it? That marijuana isn't going anywhere. It's still going to be smoked, whether we tax it or not. Why don't we benefit from it?"

"Drug policy reform has its work cut out for it," said Kevin Zeese, a long-time reformer who doubts either major party is ready for fundamental change. "The best we can hope for is a little benign neglect, and that they not continue to waste law enforcement resources on medical marijuana providers in states that allow it."

Given the plateful of problems facing the incoming administration and the state of the drug reform movement, a big push on drug policy on the federal level is unlikely, Zeese argued. "We should be working locally to continue to build momentum and a real movement," he said, suggesting that "benign neglect" could come into play. "If the reform movement continues to push state and local initiatives, I think the Obama administration will stay out of those conflicts. I don't think we'll see the drug czar flying off to different states to campaign against initiatives, and that would be a good thing."

A big push for drug reform is not only unlikely, it may be unwise at this time, Zeese suggested. "The caution Obama brings to the job, and Biden and Emanuel's histories present some room for us to maneuver, but it may be best not to poke the sleeping bear with a stick. We don't want to wake up the criminal justice advocates in the federal government. Benign neglect is better than abuse. Perhaps we should just work under the radar and allow their political caution to work for us, instead of against us."

While Zeese could tick off the bad drug policy stances of some of Obama's newly-forming inner circle, he suggested that those stances were based more on political calculations than ideological enthusiasm. "As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden aligned himself with police and prosecutors -- that is his criminal justice base, that's where the power and safety is. Emanuel was a clear architect of the crime control acts under Clinton that increased police numbers and lengthened sentences. But both these guys are essentially political animals and will take what looks like a hard line to neutralize an issue."

One area that could be an early indicator of the Obama administration's drug reform proclivities is the ongoing DEA raids against California medical marijuana providers. Obama vowed during the campaign to halt those raids. But the big news there could be that there is no news.

"We expect that Obama will keep his promise about ending the raids in California," said MPP's Mirken. "There are plenty of reasons for him to do so, including Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan -- all states that had gone Republican, but that he carried. Whatever else you think about Obama and his team, they can count, and it's hard for me to imagine that they think it is in their interest to continue a war against a quarter of the country, most of whom voted for him," he said.

"That doesn't have to happen in dramatic fashion, you don't have to hold a press conference, it could just be something that happens quietly," said Mirken. "It may be awhile before anyone really sees for sure that a change has occurred. And that's fine -- we don't need a press conference as long as he stops arresting patients and caregivers."

"Obama is no doubt already thinking about a second term and doesn't want to make drug policy reform an issue of conflict with Republicans," said Zeese. "He will play it safe, but there is some opportunity for us there, and I think ending the raids is one of the things he could make happen. He'd prefer not to have medical marijuana patients and advocates angry at him in places like California and Oregon."

"I think he will stop the raids," said Sterling. "I don't see how the raids are helpful to him unless the Republicans are able to gin up some anger about providers, so it would be wise to stay low-key and continue to work with state and local officials so it is not controversial at the local level. But if it becomes controversial, and the Republicans are able to make it an issue, then Obama will be against us. We need to stay under the radar on this right now."

While reformers watch to see what does and doesn't happen regarding the DEA raids -- will they just quietly vanish into that long good night? -- there is still plenty of work to do, said Sterling. "We have to build the movement. We keep seeing the same 300 people at the conferences, maybe 1,000 if you're talking about the harm reduction conferences. No one is going door to door in the black community talking about how the drug war is undermining public safety and its relationship with the police. No one is talking to the unions. We've done well on the education part of our issue, but we haven't done well in developing a political power base, and until we do that, we won't get reform."

San Francisco Chronicle Catches Drug Czar in a Crazy Lie

The drug czar's recent claim that there are more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks stores in San Francisco has finally achieved the level of public embarrassment it so thoroughly deserved.

San Francisco's Department of Public Health, which issues permits for medical marijuana dispensaries, is also befuddled by the federal data.

"It was extremely incorrect," said Larry Kessler, a senior health inspector at the department. "I don't know how they got that." [San Francisco Chronicle]

SF Chronicle obtained the alleged dispensary list from ONDCP and found double listings, closed businesses, and even a business in Los Angeles. With their fraud fully exposed, ONDCP has issued a totally bizarre reply saying it's "good news" that their story got press.

It’s straight-up insane. By the time you get to the part about how many Taco Bells there are in San Francisco, you’ll join me in hoping Sarah Palin is the next drug czar so we can at least get MSNBC to give these clowns the daily fact-checking they deserve.

Another Drug Czar Rumor

Pete Guither has the details. I agree with Pete that we’re just not going to know who the next drug czar is for a while still, but it’s worth noting that none of the names circulating thus far are very encouraging.

If we end up disappointed, it will be our own fault for thinking Obama’s nominee wouldn’t completely suck.

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