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The White House: Obama on Drug Policy

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #569)
Politics & Advocacy

The incoming Obama administration has posted its agenda online at the White House web site While neither drug policy nor criminal justice merited its own category in the Obama agenda, several of the broad categories listed do contain references to drug and crime policy and provide a strong indication of the administration's proclivities.

But before getting into what the agenda mentions, it's worth noting what the agenda does not mention: marijuana. There is not a word about the nation's most widely used illicit drug or the nearly 900,000 arrests a year generated by marijuana prohibition. Nor, despite Obama campaign pledges, is there a word about medical marijuana or ending the DEA raids on providers in California -- which doesn't necessarily mean he will go back on his word. It could well be that the issue is seen as too marginal to be included in the broad agenda for national change. With the first raid on a medical marijuana clinic during the Obama administration hitting this very week, reformers are anxiously hoping it is only the work of Bush holdovers and not a signal about the future.

Reformers may find themselves pleased with some Obama positions, but they will be less happy with others. The Obama administration wants to reduce inequities in the criminal justice system, but it also taking thoroughly conventional positions on other drug policy issues.

But let's let them speak for themselves. Here are the relevant sections of the Obama agenda:

Under Civil Rights:

  • End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.

  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
  • Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
  • Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Under Foreign Policy:

  • Afghanistan: Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security -- the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan's economic development. Obama and Biden will demand the Afghan government do more, including cracking down on corruption and the illicit opium trade.

Under Rural Issues:

  • Combat Methamphetamine: Continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal.

Under Urban Issues:

  • Support Local Law Enforcement: President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to fully funding the COPS program to put 50,000 police officers on the street and help address police brutality and accountability issues in local communities. Obama and Biden also support efforts to encourage young people to enter the law enforcement profession, so that our local police departments are not understaffed because of a dearth of qualified applicants.

  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports: America is facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis in urban communities. Obama and Biden will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work Partnership, and work to reform correctional systems to break down barriers for ex-offenders to find employment.
Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

What we need to be doing is making our position crystal clear. We elected this man to office. We did work for him getting him elected because he said he would work for us. Now we need to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that we will make sure there IS no second term unless he does the work we want done.

President Obama did not win by such a large margin that he can turn his back on the segment of population that was the difference in victory. He firmly rooted his campaign strategy in getting the support of web savvy younger voters. We did our job in helping him get elected, he needs to return the favor. Our work in getting Obama elected may be over but our work getting the change we seek has just begun. Voice your opinion and tie it to your support for a second term. We are after all the biggest special interest group there is...the American Voter!

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi challenged us to speak out in Aug saying

“[W]e need peoples’ help to be in touch with their members of Congress to say why this (marijuana law reform) should be the case.”

The founding fathers fought for what they thought was right for our country. We need to do the same! Arm yourself with the facts and do your part in convincing our government to make the changes we all know are right. Speak loud, speak often!

Bobby J.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 1:50am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The problem with your position is that Obama did not campaign on a legalization platform nor did he get elected on a legalization platform. Legalization and drug law reform have not been a feature of his policy at all, so it's hard to see all the surprise that we haven't heard much on the issue yet. That being said, I do believe that The President has at least an understandfing about the truth regarding marijuana, and that he WILL do something, in his second term, to start the process of rolling back almost 100 years of drug prohibition. I think economics will force the issue in the end, the drug war is too hopeless and expensive, and the potential revenue from legalization of marijuana alone is mind-boggling.

I know we want action now on a lot of issues, and for many of us, the #1 issue is drug policy change. Political reality dictates that the number one priority is to maintain control of the government for the next 8 years and beyond. To have Jeb Bush come along in 2012 and take back the white house would be devastating, not just to our movement, but to the country and indeed the world in general. The Democrats are just politicians, and mostly inept in their own right, but they are far preferable to the republicans and their puritanical greed, unfettered agression, and destructive agenda.

Yes, the marijuana laws in this country are unjust and inhumane, and you're damn right we want change, but realize that there are much higher priority issues, like global climate change, our oil addiction, the wars we are engaged in, the economy & job losses, the housing crisis, these are all things that MUST be addressed as they could destroy our society and America as we know it. This administration has a lot of work to do before they'll be able to focus on a rational and humane drug policy that surely will include the legalization of cannabis for adult use.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 2:39am Permalink
mlang52 (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Just because there are other issues on the burner does not mean he has to ignore the pot issue! Growing hemp would help decrease global warming. Its green you know! Also is better for producing bio diesel than corn! The hemp industries could supply thousands of jobs! It would also help out , in this financial mess to stop wasting billions of dollars on a failed (graded 0) drug war! And there are plenty of houses, so there is no crisis. The problem is, with people losing their jobs, they can't keep up payments on a house (roof over their head) or food on the table.

And if he doesn't get it done, he won't get a second term. The young Net savvy voters expect him to keep his promises. Or we will take the establishment and two party system, down! Putting off any action and avoiding responsibility has gone on way to long in this country! The body politic, this time, is pushing for CHANGE!!! It was what he promised.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 5:38am Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by mlang52 (not verified)

is just more the same old, same old. I have taken to calling him Barak Bushsame Obama. Y'all shoulda voted for Ron Paul or Bob Barr, then we'd be seeing some REAL change, by now!

I'm pro-choice on EVERY THING!

Fri, 01/30/2009 - 3:05am Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

and other drugs are illegal the prohibition economy created and supported by the drug war policy supports crime, gangsters and terrorism.

Support for any part of the war on drugs is support for America's sworn enemies. Both foreign and domestic.

Foreign policy and New York University Afghan expert Barnett Rubin said this to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee in 2006 and the Armed Services Committee in 2007:

"The international drug-control regime does not reduce drug use, but it does, by criminalizing narcotics, produce huge profits for criminals and the armed groups and corrupt officials who protect them. In Afghanistan, this drug policy provides, in effect, huge subsidies to the United States' enemies."

He is not the only one telling this government about the national security threats imposed on us all by the war on drugs policy.

The 2004 Congressional Research Service report 'Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Causal Links and Implications for Domestic Drug Control Policy' summarized the issue this way:

"The international traffic in illicit drugs contributes to terrorist risk through at least five mechanisms: supplying cash, creating chaos and instability, supporting corruption, providing “cover” and sustaining common infrastructures for illicit activity, and competing for law enforcement and intelligence attention. Of these, cash and chaos are likely to be the two most important."

Keeping the opium crop illegal also gives bin Laden an asymmetric weapon, heroin, that he is using against western children to destabilize western culture. Obama campaign national security and foreign policy advisor John Kerry referred to this with reporters in 2001 as the World Trade Center and Pentagon still smoldered: "That's part of their revenge on the world," Kerry said. "Get as many people drugged out and screwed up as you can." U.S. Sen. John Kerry 21 Sept. 2001

And its well known in the policing and intelligence communities that bin Laden advocates to his followers around the world to act independently by selling drugs to get untraceable cash for financing operations against the free world. The Madrid train bombings are an example of this strategy used successfully against the west.


Sat, 01/24/2009 - 9:48am Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

The Democrats, Republicans and Obama do not care about pot, pot smokers or medical pot except that pot is a 1970's symbol of mass political dissent and the Democrats and Republicans fear mass political dissent more than anything else in the world.

The reform movement will never gather enough political dissent around pot issues to achieve the critical mass of mass protests which is what Obama, the Democrats and Republicans fear most. As much as it would be nice to achieve it will not happen. As a result pot issues, even medical pot, are distant back burner issues for the Democrats and Republicans. Always have been and always will be. That is politics in America.

BUT public safety and national security are front burner issues. ALWAYS. They have to be because they are the only real mandate that any American politician gets from the United States Constitution. Public safety and national security are what keep politicians in the good graces of the majority of American voters.

The public safety and national security issues posed by the war on drugs can and should force both Democrats and Republicans to face their fear of political dissent in a new way. American public safety and national security can and should force these Democrat and Republican political hacks to suppress their self-centered political fear of dissent in favor of what is best for America and the world.

This is why I like to point out to drug war supporters that when they support the war on drugs they are supporting America's sworn enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 11:02am Permalink
David Dunn (not verified)

Since Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) withdrew his name from the Commerce Secretary position, perhaps when he gets his name cleared of any impropriety, Obama might be persuaded to appoint Richardson as DEA chief.

Richardson led New Mexico to enact legislation legalizing medical marijuana that is grown and supplied by the state.

Richardson also led the legislature to pass a resolution asking Congress to allow industrial hemp,

The economic advantages of legalized hemp in these difficult economic times, are that it would promote American jobs -- both agriculture and manufacturing. A lot of high tech "green" jobs would be created to develop high tech products that would have a positive impact on the environment.

Too, legalized hemp would offer a partial break from a centralized economic system that is partly responsible for the economic quagmire that we now find ourselves in.

Alexander Hamilton was a strong advocate of hemp. In his 1791 report to Congress on manufactures, Hamilton wrote of hemp:

This is an article of importance enough to warrant the employment of extraordinary means in its favor.

Legalizing hemp would put us that much closer to realizing one of our founder's American values and ideals. Obama frequently speaks of American values and ideals.

You might write your congresspersons, asking them, "What extraordinary means are you employing in hemp's favor?"

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.

— Thomas Jefferson

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 8:51pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by David Dunn (not verified)

but I think clearing his name will probably take longer than both Obama terms.

Really, I think the best thing would to shutter ONDCP permanently and use that money elsewhere.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 11:49pm Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

In reply to by David Dunn (not verified)

for Richardson's early endorsement but I'll bet Obama was happy to see him go down in flames quickly. Richardson simply does not fit the profile and model of the type of people Obama has close to his throne.

My speculation has been for someone like Mark Souder or another Republican for the new drug czar. And either a career thug cop or a general for the DEA.

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 12:25am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

You can have 4 years in office or 8 years in office. It's your choice and it's our's as to how that vote will be cast in 2012. Will we vote for a champion or a run-of-the-mill liar? Your choice, Mr. President. Do you HEAR the PEOPLE? Then, let them know it!

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 1:09pm Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

of an intolerable status quo is the only way to tell the supporters of that status quo that there are those of us who do actually oppose them.

My new blog: Aid & comfort. Dedicated to exposing how the global economy created and fostered by war on drugs is actually a massive subsidy program for anarchy, crime and terrorism.

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 1:57pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Yeah, right; “don’t freak out”!

What is this crap: “Time will heal all wounds” “Let's work with the God-given authorities for the good of the group”. “Wisdom will prevail”. “We are at the beginning of a great new era.”

Yeah; this is the dawning of the age of …Aquarius! … and a messiah has come! Yeah, and god will solve all our problems!
…and I believe in the tooth fairy!

That’s a lot of BS!

If anybody thinks this is going to be much different in relation to drug-related drugs to previous administrations is way off lost in space.

Does anybody have an idea of how many religious services were given during Obama’s inauguration? The should give you an idea of how things will be "changing".

Does anybody know how the religious and fundamentalist right has gotten control of services for inmates in and out of prisons? How they indoctrinate prisoners at the most vulnerable time in their lives? Does anybody have the sightless idea of how these pundits operate? How they push religion in the so called “substance abuse rehabilitation”?

Does anybody know how these fundamentalists indoctrinators plan to take most of the millions that the recently passed Second Chance Act of 2007 has for pre-release, post release services and mentoring that are supposed to be given for community organizations? How they have everything already laid out and lobbied for; how they have the federal authorities on their side;; which churches and groups they'll be using to secure the funds?

Why do you think this bill (which tucked under the same legislation about wiretapping), was approved almost unanimously just prior to the elections? Did anybody see who were in first row with Bush and were also mingling “check-to-check” with both democrats and republicans? How they were hailed as the “saviors”?

Who has read how Joe Biden refers to addictions, as a "brain disease"--just the same as the idiots of NIDA do?

It’s time to keep the god and idealization crap out of politics! That’s why we are so messed up in the first place.

Blip hope and the god crap; get active!

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 11:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

To those that expect Jeb Bush (another alcoholic, that took a free ride because of his brother’s sponsors) to steal the votes like his puppet brother was helped in doing before isn’t aware of who is being groomed for the presidency in 2012: Bobby Jindal, the new governor of Louisiana, which is changing education curriculum to creationism. That will be devastating; he will finish where Bush left in the Christian right agenda.

Also, that same one talked about the republicans’ “puritanical greed, unfettered aggression, and destructive agenda”, already forgot that in 2006 the majority of the people voted to kick republicans’ dominion of Congress and stop the occupation of Iraq and they cleaned their butts with those votes. That’s how much they respect “we the people”!

Lost of people repeat ad-nauseam what the yellow media tells us about opium production and trade in Afghanistan, but nobody seems to understand how opium production got back to the levels they were before the Taliban put a ban on it, immediately after Afghanistan was invaded by US—then production levels kept ascending.

US corporate media wants us to believe that the Taliban are the ones behind these astronomical levels; they don’t mention what’s the role of Perdue Pharma in conjunction with other French and Canadian pharmaceuticals in the monopoly of certain untouched production sites in Afghanistan. Opium and weapons was the CIA’s tools to gain the support of the Mujadeen (even bloodthirstier ) to fight the Taliban. But even those turned against the US also. There is old information about how the market was controlled by different mafia factions. If anything good the Taliban did, it was trying to get rid of this mafia—we shouldn’t forget that these are the maximum embodiment of absurd fundamentalism, and as with women, they wanted to have control of everything. I don’t think we’ll never know how much they (Taliban) were or are benefiting from the opium trade either. Before, opium addiction wasn’t a problem in Afghanistan; it now is—and the ones in control of the country aren’t the Taliban, but those that US imposed as government.

There is so much about the opium trade and the CIA involvement, but I can’t find my docs right now. This is something Chomski wrote sometime ago.

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 11:49pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The only sentence government needs to understand. {Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.].............. Were doomed.

Tue, 01/27/2009 - 3:32pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a little dissapointed in these White House durg law positions but I am not entirely surprised by them. I can hope that Obmama is smart enough to know what a human and civil rights disater drug prohibition has been and that he will be more open to adress a decriminalization policy after he is elected to a second term (he does not want the Republicans to peg him a George McGovern anytime soon). We should wait to put more pressure on him.

However, a good question that a decent reporter should have asked Obama by now is this:

President Obama, as a younger man you admitted in your book using the illegal drugs cocaine and marijuana, to your credit you are the first president to have done so, your to predescessors made non-denial denials when confronted with claims of their own likley use of drugs. Hoever, had been arrested for drug posession it is not possible that you would have been elected president. Therfore, would you propase decriminalizing drugs so that a young man, with your telents, in the future could be president without fearing revelations about drug convictions?

Wed, 01/28/2009 - 11:30am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It seems to me that many obstacles in this countries laws were overcome, it was because of the sacrifices that a few great people put forth. We all have to sacrifice to succeed. Perhaps if every person that really wanted these laws to change would be willing to do the time for them. So get some plants, and turn yourself in. Create a larger problem than our current criminal justice system can handle. Then it will be a front page issue, right up there with Iraq. Imagine if 100,000 plus American voluntarily entered the criminal justice system in a short time frame, say one month. Let's make it September. I'll go first.

Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:07pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)'s my 2 cents:

The "drug war" is making a lot of money for someone right now... hmmm, maybe the people who build prisons? I can't claim to know how it all works, but obviously the status quo is profitting someone, or it would've been changed.

Take note that President Obama's policy doesn't even mention marijuana. I think this is rather encouraging. He may not be changing anything right now, but he is not coming out and supporting the status quo either. It's up to the citizens of our country to inform him that this issue is important to us, and why.

Meanwhiles... the only garden you control is your own.

What would they do if all 20 million of us (..."twenty million Americans smoked marijuana during the past year." - started growing it in our backyards, on our balconies, in the ditches and on our windowsills?

Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:10am Permalink
please help (not verified)

many small time drug cases that used to be tried in state court is now being tried in federal court,if they don,t take a plea bargin and found guilty they might get 5-10 in state but get 30 plus in federal, i know someone it happen to and they need the help of anyone who care, i don,t think the american people know how the federal system works, giving these young men 30 plus years with no chance to redeem themselves,i guess they just print money and keep them there,schools are closing and prisons are being built,not for murderers or rapeists but for low lever drug dealers,do the punishment fit the crime?

Sat, 05/08/2010 - 8:28pm Permalink

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