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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.

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.

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.

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.

Hemp: North Dakota Farmers Head to Federal Appeals Court

A pair of North Dakota farmers who want to be able to grow hemp were in US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wednesday to argue their case. Farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, who is also a Republican state representative, applied to grow hemp under North Dakota's hemp law but have yet to receive a permit to do so from the DEA. They filed suit in federal district court in Bismarck last year, but lost at the district court level.

The farmers and their attorneys, Joe Sandler and Tim Purdon, are appealing on a number of grounds, including the district court's ruling that hemp and marijuana are the same. The farmers argued that the scientific evidence is clear that hemp is genetically distinct from drug varieties of cannabis and that there are no psychoactive effects from ingesting it.

The DEA, which has jurisdiction over drug scheduling decisions, does not recognize any difference between hemp and marijuana. Under current federal law, anyone who grows industrial hemp for use in foods, lotions, fuels, cloth, and paper, among others, is subject to prosecution under federal marijuana cultivation statutes.

Justice Department attorney Melissa Patterson told the court that state law cannot override federal law. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce between states, Patterson said, and that is the basis of federal drug laws. "What states do cannot expand or contract Congress's interstate regulation powers," Patterson told the judges.

But Sandler retorted that that was not the question before the court. "The question here is whether the mere existence of a plant can affect interstate commerce," he said.

In an effort to allay the concerns of the appeals court panel, the farmers and their attorneys argued that North Dakota's law is so strict that their hemp could not be converted into psychoactive marijuana and that the state's monitoring of hemp fields would prevent illicit marijuana cultivation. "It would be the last place in the world that anybody would do anything illegal," Sandler said.

A decision could come down in weeks or months.

Feature: Looking Forward -- The Prospects for Drug Reform in Obama's Washington

The political landscape in Washington, DC, is undergoing a dramatic shift as the Democratic tide rolls in, and, after eight years of drug war status quo under the Republicans, drug reformers are now hoping the change in administrations will lead to positive changes in federal drug policies. As with every other aspect of federal policy, groups interested in criminal justice and drug policy reform are coming out of the woodwork with their own recommendations for Obama and the Democratic Congress. This week, we will look at some of those proposals and attempt to assess the prospects for real change.

The White House
One of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform proposals, of which drug-related reform is only a small part, comes from a nonpartisan consortium of organizations and individuals coordinated by the Constitution Project, including groups such as the Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and the Open Society Policy Center. The set of proposals, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, includes the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory Minimum Reforms:
    Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity
    Improve and expand the federal "safety valve"
    Create a sunset provision on existing and new mandatory minimums
    Clarify that the 924(c) recidivism provisions apply only to true repeat offenders
  • Alternatives to Incarceration:
    Expand alternatives to incarceration in federal sentencing guidelines
    Enact a deferred adjudication statute
    Support alternatives to incarceration through expansion of federal drug and other problem solving courts.
  • Incentives and Sentencing Management
    Expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    Clarify good time credit
    Expand the amount of good time conduct credit prisoners may receive and ways they can receive it
    Enhance sentence reductions for extraordinary and compelling circumstances
    Expand elderly prisoners release program
    Revive executive clemency
  • Promoting Fairness and Addressing Disparity:
    Support racial impact statements as a means of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities
    Support analysis of racial and ethnic disparity in the federal justice system
    Add a federal public defender as an ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also issued a set of recommendations, Actions for Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America Under Bush, which include some drug reform provisions:

  • Crack/Powder Sentencing: The attorney general should revise the US Attorneys' Manual to require that crack offenses are charged as "cocaine" and not "cocaine base," effectively resulting in elimination of the disparity.
  • Medical Marijuana: Halt the use of Justice Department funds to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users in states with current laws permitting access to physician-supervised medical marijuana. In particular, the US Attorney general should update the US Attorneys' Manual to de-prioritize the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana users in medical marijuana states. There is currently no regulation in place to be amended or repealed; there is, of course, a federal statutory scheme that prohibits marijuana use unless pursuant to approved research. But US Attorneys have broad charging discretion in determining what types of cases to prosecute, and with drugs, what threshold amounts that will trigger prosecution. The US Attorneys' Manual contains guidelines promulgated by the Attorney general and followed by US Attorneys and their assistants.
  • The DEA Administrator should grant Lyle Craker's application for a Schedule I license to produce research-grade medical marijuana for use in DEA- and FDA-approved studies. This would only require DEA to approve the current recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge.
  • All relevant agencies should stop denying the existence of medical uses of marijuana -- as nearly one-third of states have done by enacting laws -- and therefore, under existing legal criteria, reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule V.
  • Issue an executive order stating that, "No veteran shall be denied care solely on the basis of using marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state law." Although there are many known instances of veterans being denied care as a result of medical marijuana use, we have not been able to identify a specific regulation that mandates or authorizes this policy.
  • Federal Racial Profiling: Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion. Include in the order a mandate that federal agencies collect data on hit rates for stops and searches, and that such data be disaggregated by group. DOJ should issue guidelines regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. The new guidelines should clarify that federal law enforcement officials may not use race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or sex to any degree, except that officers may rely on these factors in a specific suspect description as they would any noticeable characteristic of a subject.

Looking to the south, the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of nonprofit groups, has issued a petition urging Obama "to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors." Included in its proposals are:

  • Actively work for peace in Colombia. In a war that threatens to go on indefinitely, the immense suffering of the civilian population demands that the United States takes risks to achieve peace. If the United States is to actively support peace, it must stop endlessly bankrolling war and help bring an end to the hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis.
  • Get serious -- and smart -- about drug policy. Our current drug policy isn't only expensive and ineffective, it's also inhumane. Instead of continuing a failed approach that brings soldiers into Latin America's streets and fields, we must invest in alternative development projects in the Andes and drug treatment and prevention here at home.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has some suggestions as well. As NORML's Paul Armentano wrote last week on Alternet:

  • President Obama must uphold his campaign promise to cease the federal arrest and prosecution of (state) law-abiding medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by appointing leaders at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Justice, and the US Attorney General's office who will respect the will of the voters in the thirteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana.
  • President Obama should use the power of the bully pulpit to reframe the drug policy debate from one of criminal policy to one of public health. Obama can stimulate this change by appointing directors to the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
  • President Obama should follow up on statements he made earlier in his career in favor of marijuana decriminalization by establishing a bi-partisan presidential commission to review the budgetary, social, and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Clearly, the drug reform community and its allies see the change of administrations as an opportunity to advance the cause. The question is how receptive will the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress be to drug reform efforts.

"We've examined Obama's record and his statements, and 90% of it is good," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "But we don't know what he intends to do in office. There is an enormous amount of good he can do," Borden said, mentioning opening up funding for needle exchange programs, US Attorney appointments, and stopping DEA raids on medical marijuana providers. "Will Obama make some attempt to actualize the progressive drug reform positions he has taken? He has a lot on his plate, and drug policy reform has tended to be the first thing dropped by left-leaning politicians."

There will be some early indicators of administration interest in drug reform, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will be watching to see if he issues an executive order stopping the DEA raids; that would be a huge sign," he said. "He could also repeal the needle exchange funding ban. The congressional ban would still be in place, but that would show some great leadership. If they started taking on drug policy issues in the first 100 days, that would be a great sign, but I don't think people should expect that. There are many other issues, and it's going to take awhile just to clean up Bush's mess. I'm optimistic, but I don't expect big changes to come quickly."

"We are hoping to see a new direction," said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform for the Open Society Policy Center. "We couldn't have a better scenario with the incoming vice president having sponsored the one-to-one crack/powder bill in the Senate and the incoming president being a sponsor. And we have a situation in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, where there is bipartisan interest in sentencing reform. Both sides of the aisle want some sort of movement on this, it's been studied and vetted, and now Congress needs to do the right thing. It's time to get smart on crime, and this is not a radical agenda. As far as I'm concerned, fixing the crack/powder disparity is the compromise, and elimination of mandatory minimums is what really needs to be on the agenda."

"With the Smart on Crime proposals, we tried to focus on what was feasible," said the Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch. "These are items where we think we are likely to get support, where the community has demonstrated support, or where there has been legislation proposed to deal with these issues. It prioritizes the issues we think are most likely to move, and crack sentencing reform is on that list."

The marijuana reform groups are more narrowly focused, of course, but they, too are looking for positive change. "Obama has made it very clear on the campaign trail that he disagrees with the use of federal agencies to undo medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "He has vowed to stop that. Obama seems to be someone who values facts and reasoned decision-making. If he applies that to marijuana policy, that could be a good thing".

While the list of possible drug reforms is long and varied, it is also notable for what has not been included. Only NORML even mentions marijuana decriminalization, and no one is talking about ending the drug war -- only making it a bit kinder and gentler. The L-word remains unutterable.

"While we're optimistic about reducing the harms of prohibition, legalization is not something that I think they will take on," said Piper. "But any movement toward drug reform is good. If we can begin to shift to a more health-oriented approach, that will change how Americans think about this issue and create a space where regulation can be discussed in a a rational manner. Now, because of our moralist criminal justice framework, it is difficult to have a sane discussion about legalization."

"We didn't talk that much about legalization," said Gotsch in reference to the Smart on Crime proposals. "A lot of organizations involved have more ambitious goals, but that wouldn't get the kind of reaction we want. There just isn't the political support yet for legalization, even of marijuana."

"We should be talking about legalization, yes," said StoptheDrugWar.org's Borden, "but should we be talking about it in communications to the new president who has shown no sign of supporting it? Not necessarily. We must push the envelope, but if we push it too far in lobbying communications to national leadership, we risk losing their attention."

"I do think it would be a mistake to blend that kind of caution into ideological caution over what we are willing to talk about at all," Borden continued. "I think we should be talking about legalization, it's just a question of when and where," he argued.

Talking legalization is premature, said Eric Sterling, formerly counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee and now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "What we are not yet doing as a movement is building upon our successes," he said. "We just saw medical marijuana win overwhelmingly in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts, but the nation's commentariat has not picked up on it, and our movement has not been sufficiently aggressive in getting those votes translated into the political discourse. We haven't broken out of the making fun phase of marijuana policy yet."

Sterling pointed in particular to the medical marijuana issue. "Everyone recognizes that the state-federal conflict on medical marijuana is a major impediment, and we have 26 senators representing medical marijuana states, but not a single senator has introduced a medical marijuana bill," he said. "It's an obvious area for legislative activity in the Senate, but it hasn't happened. This suggests that we as a movement still lack the political muscle even on something as uncontroversial as the medical use of marijuana."

Even the apparent obvious targets for reform, such as the crack/powder sentencing disparity, are going to require a lot of work, said Sterling. "It will continue to be a struggle," he said. "The best crack bill was Biden's, cosponsored by Obama and Clinton, but I'm not sure who is going to pick that up this year. The sentencing reform community continues to struggle to frame the issue as effective law enforcement, and I think it's only on those terms that we can win."

Reformers also face the reality that the politics of crime continues to be a sensitive issue for the majority Democrats, Sterling said. "Crime is an issue members are frightened about, and it's an area where Republicans traditionally feel they have the upper ground. The Democrats are going to be reluctant to open themselves up to attack in areas where there is not a strong political upside. On many issues, Congress acts when there is a clear universe of allies who will benefit and who are pushing for action. I don't know if we are there yet."

Change is the mantra of the Obama administration, and change is what the drug reform community is hoping for. Now, the community must act to ensure that change happens, and that the right changes happen.

Feature: Looking Forward -- Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

If there is one man who symbolizes and epitomizes the federal war on drugs, it is the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the drug czar's office. For the last eight years, that man has been John Walters, a protege of conservative moralist Bill Bennett, the first ONDCP drug czar. With his anti-marijuana media campaigns, his innumerable press releases, and his interference in various state-level initiatives, Walters has been drug reform's bête noire.

Walters parody from 2004 Common Sense for Drug Policy ad (csdp.org/publicservice/potency04.htm)
Now, Walters and his boss, President Bush, are preparing to exit stage right, and the Obama administration will have to choose his successor. Given the foreign wars and failing economy facing the incoming administration, filling the drug czar position doesn't appear to be a high priority for the new resident at the White House. Only one name has been publicly mentioned, Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, and he has said he's not interested. A US News & World Report list of potential White House appointments doesn't even list any names for consideration as drug czar.

But for people interested in undoing some of the harms of the Bush era drug war, ONDCP is very important. As ONDCP explains on its home page:

"The principal purpose of ONDCP is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation's drug control program. The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. To achieve these goals, the Director of ONDCP is charged with producing the National Drug Control Strategy. The Strategy directs the Nation's anti-drug efforts and establishes a program, a budget, and guidelines for cooperation among Federal, State, and local entities.

"By law, the director of ONDCP also evaluates, coordinates, and oversees both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies and ensures that such efforts sustain and complement State and local anti-drug activities. The Director advises the President regarding changes in the organization, management, budgeting, and personnel of Federal Agencies that could affect the Nation's anti-drug efforts; and regarding Federal agency compliance with their obligations under the Strategy."

So, who is it going to be? Drug reformers and others consulted this week by the Chronicle had few actual suggestions -- some worried that anyone suggested or supported by the reform movement would be doomed -- but plenty of ideas about what type of person should replace Walters. And some even speculated about the possibility of just doing away with the drug czar's office altogether.

"The reform community needs to be looking at someone who has a comprehensive public health orientation or who has an evidence-based focus," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee and currently president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "This would be someone who says goal number one is treatment of people with hard-core addiction problems and number two is to make sure our prevention programs are effective and well-grounded."

Sterling mentioned a couple of possibilities. "I don't think it's realistic to think we can get a reform sympathizer in there. It's not going to be Ethan Nadelmann. It needs to be someone who has administrative experience in some capacity. One possibility would be Chris Fichtner, the former head of mental health for the state of Illinois," Sterling suggested.

Fichtner is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago who has worked with drug reformers in Illinois. He testified in favor of medical marijuana bills in Illinois and Wisconsin.

"Another possibility, someone I know the reform community had a lot of respect for before he went into government is Westley Clark, head of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Services," Sterling continued. "He's African-American, been at the federal level for a long time, has experience managing a federal agency, and a lot of experience in the field."

"If we had our druthers," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre, "it would be somebody like Ethan Nadelmann, with a comprehensive understanding of drugs, but that's a wet dream." Instead, he said, one name being kicked around was Mark Kleiman, a professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs who has written extensively on drug policy and whose innovative ideas sometimes raise as many hackles in the reform community as they do among drug warriors.

St. Pierre mentioned one other possible candidate. "Another name we're hearing is Bud Schuster, a former head of NIDA in the 1980s," he said. "That would be someone coming at it at least from a NIDA point of view, and we need someone like that, not someone just coming at it from a criminal justice perspective."

"I'd almost be happy with any drug czar who doesn't constantly say stupid things," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "We would like to see someone who will approach it from a public health standpoint, who will work to contain the criminal justice system in ways that protect the public health objectives of drug policy."

Borden pointed to a trio of what he called "moderate academics" as possibilities. "People like Kleiman or Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun [coauthors of 'Drug War Heresies'] are not drug war hawks and they are thinking people. We need some logical thought at the White House drug office."

"We're as anxious to see what names pop up as anybody," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We think John Walters set the bar pretty low. If there has to be a drug czar, we want to see someone who bases policy on facts and science, not ideology."

"Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke once said we need a surgeon general, not a military general, and I think that's a good starting point," said Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper. "At a minimum, we want someone coming from public health or medicine, as opposed to law enforcement or the conservative punditry. Drug reformers and harm reductionists and treatment providers have been in the wilderness for 20 years; now it's time for someone who understands addiction and supports evidence-based programs."

"If we're going to have a drug czar, we need one who insists on accuracy, honesty, transparency, and who is is willing to consider alternatives to the drug war including harm reduction approaches as well as modifications of the drug war such as increased funding for treatment and prevention," said Matthew Robinson, professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University and co-author of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

But, said Robinson, we don't really need a drug czar. "We don't need an ONDCP or a drug war, so therefore we don't need a drug czar," he argued. "Yet, we do need an accurate, honest, transparent agency to evaluate drug abuse control policy (just like with other government policies). It can be ONDCP or some other agency, but if it is ONDCP, it must be removed from the White House since there it is merely a political office whose aim is to further drug war ideology."

Former ONDCP Public Affairs Director (during the Clinton years) Robert Weiner was as critical of Walters and the Bush administration as anybody, but for different reasons. Weiner complained of the systematic weakening of the office in the Bush years.

"This administration has been a disaster in shrinking the power of the drug czar," Weiner said. "They dropped the drug czar's budget certification authority from $19 billion to $13 billion, they took away oversight power over some programs, they've cut the media program, they tried to move out the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program and the Justice Department community grants program. I've shed many tears as I watched the power of the drug czar deflate by his own lack of initiative."

It didn't have to be that way, Weiner said. "When Bush was selecting a drug czar, there were eight or 10 treatment honchos they were looking at, but he chose a partisan hack. It was as if there were no drug czar. His job was to press the drug issue as a national security and domestic health issue, and he didn't do enough of it."

Weiner is less concerned with the field from which the next drug czar emerges than his ability to advance the office's charge. "The most important thing is that he be a forceful, aggressive, forceful advocate," he said. "No matter what side of the fence you're on, everyone is in favor of drug treatment, and drug court is very good. We need someone who will push the concept of treatment not imprisonment for nonviolent offenders," he said.

But while Weiner would like to see a strengthened drug czar, many drug reformers would be glad to see no drug czar at all. "Patients Out of Time sent a letter to Obama transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett on the 9th," reported the group's Al Byrne. "We recommended the drug czar position be abandoned but... if that was somehow not politically feasible then the position be staffed by a health care professional, specifically a MD or RN who is not an academic/political professional."

"Ideally, ONDCP should be sunsetted," said St. Pierre. "I think many reformers could agree with that, but it doesn't appear to be on the table. If we're going to be burdened with a drug czar's office, we need a break from the two principal models -- the political hacks, like Walters and Bennett, and the law enforcement/military types, like McCaffrey and Lee Brown. If we're going to have a drug czar, make him an MD or someone in the public health realm."

"The nation and the government don't need a drug czar," said Sterling. "One of the important warnings of the 1973 Shafer Commission was about the institutionalization of the anti-drug effort, the creation of self-sustaining bureaucracies. The ONDCP is the prime example of that problem. Because of its prominence, it has the greatest capacity for mischief and gets the most attention for its falsehoods and PR-driven policies," he said.

The federal drug apparatus could be reorganized, he argued. "It may be the case that a reorganization of federal drug agencies is called for, probably with coordination under the Department of Health and Human Services," he posited. "There doesn't need to be a DEA with its SWAT mentality, and the effective management of a drug control program doesn't require White House supervision, either."

The agency comes up for reauthorization in 2010. That could prove an opportunity to try to kill it or, more likely, to try to restructure it. While going for the kill would be sweet, that appears unlikely to happen at this point.

It is "not realistic" to think an effort to sunset ONDCP in 2010 will bear immediate fruit, said Sterling. "The effective drug control movement has not developed a campaign and a political imperative, a drug control organizational paradigm that is a clear alternative to the existing one," he pointed out. "Therefore, there is no campaign in the Congress or in the news media."

Nor is there any evidence that the Obama administration is eyeing ONDCP for the axe. "The only way there would be any drive in the administration to do away with ONDCP would be if there is an analysis from the new cabinet secretaries deciding collectively that ONDCP is a big enough problem that they would want to abolish it," said Sterling.

Another obstacle is that incoming vice-president Joe Biden crafted the legislation that created ONDCP 20 years ago. "Any proposal to do away with the drug czar would get into that history with Biden. It would have to reject Biden's approach, or he would have to change his mind. If Biden were to say ONDCP was now unneeded, that would be one thing, but I haven't seen any sign of that."

With the prospect of killing ONDCP apparently off the table for now, some reformers are concentrating on making the best ONDCP possible. That may be the best to hope for in the near- and medium-term.

"If we could change this office so its responsibility is reducing the harms of both substance abuse and drug prohibition, then it would be very useful," said Piper. "There are very clearly problems with both drug abuse and the war on drugs. Even if the drug war ended tomorrow, there would still be a drug problem and a need for national leadership around harm reduction and treatment, including alcohol and tobacco. Reauthorization in 2010 is a real chance to change what ONDCP is all about. If that's possible it's worth keeping the agency."

Now the waiting game begins. Given the Obama administration's priorities and the full plate of problems it faces, we could be waiting awhile for a new drug czar.

Obama’s Chief of Staff is a Crazy Drug Warrior

President-elect Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff is hardly a good sign for reformers. As Jacob Sullum points out, he’s a complete nightmare when it comes to drug policy:

"We are going to continue to find ways within the administration to fight legalization and the notion of legalization," Rahm Emanuel, a key Clinton drug-policy adviser, said yesterday. "We're against the message that the initiative sends to children. Marijuana does not come cost-free. It is illegal and it is dangerous."

Of course, that was more than 10 years ago, when even Bob Barr was still in full-blown drug war demagogue mode. Has Emanuel improved? Unfortunately not, and if anything he’s gotten worse as demonstrated by this totally deranged attack on former AG Alberto Gonzalez for saying the war on drugs wasn’t a "real" war:

"Thanks for the white flag. From the United States' most senior law enforcement official, the man who should be leading the war on drugs, this white flag of surrender will not be reassuring to the millions of parents trying to protect their kids."

This full-scale war mentality regarding drug policy is about as bad as it gets and I just shudder to think this is the guy who’ll have the president’s ear on a daily basis. Obama has called for "shifting the paradigm" with regards to the war on drugs, only to then surround himself with the worst drug warriors in the democratic party.

It’s too soon to call this a betrayal of anything Obama has pledged regarding reform; I doubt drug policy was a factor in Emanuel’s or Biden’s selection. But it’s a harsh reminder that vehement support for the war on drugs continues to thrive on both sides of the aisle. Reform won't come easily for Obama even if he's completely serious about changing our approach to the war on drugs.

Will Bush’s DEA Launch a Final Assault on Medical Marijuana Before January?

President-elect Obama has pledged to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana, but he doesn’t take office for several weeks. Meanwhile, the DEA has spent the last 8 years periodically raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California based on undisclosed criteria, stealing money, scaring patients, and even convicting good people on harsh charges for activities that are legal under state law.

So what happens now? With their livelihood threatened, will the bloodsucking narc-warriors dive in for one last bite? They’ve got everything mapped out and they’ve spent years investigating this (which is embarrassingly easy since these are legal, storefront co-ops). No one really knows what the marching orders will be after January, so you can bet there are scores of pissed-off drug cops just dying to throw one last flurry before the bell rings.

You’d think the election of a more supportive president would enthrall the medical marijuana community, but I’m hearing that people on the ground in California are buzzing nervously about the coming weeks with no clear indication of what direction things will go. The potential withdrawal of prosecutorial resources could have a chilling effect, but prosecutions are only one dimension of the problem. Asset forfeiture is another major concern following DEA’s recent threats against landlords, and you can bet there’s no limit to the greed and spite that has defined the federal war on medical marijuana since its inception.

So while I’ll decline to speculate what’s to come, I keep reminding myself that the federal drug warriors’ actions always carry political consequences. These raids have long sought to create the perception of impracticality surrounding state medical marijuana laws, and that strategy has failed. Medical marijuana continues to gain momentum as a political issue, as evidenced by the strong showing in Michigan and universal support from candidates in the democratic primaries.

The faceless drug war army perched over California must consider the ramifications of any ugliness they unleash in the weeks to come, because any action they take will provoke tremendous rallying cries that will surely reverberate all the way to Washington, DC. A final exhibit in the repugnance of the federal war on medical marijuana might be exactly what it takes to bring about the burial of this bullshit once and for all. If DEA wants to play hardball, it would seem wise to wait until the new referee takes the field.

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