The War on Drugs is No Laughing Matter

It's time for Barack Obama to take legalization seriously

Alcohol did not create Al Capone's gang violence in the hometown of our current president. Prohibition did.

Marijuana does not create murderous drug cartels in Mexico. America's War on Drugs does.

Surely President Barack Obama, one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House, must understand that truth—even if he chooses to laugh-off those of us who want to get serious about the need to end the social insanity of neo-Prohibition by legalizing marijuana and other psychoactive chemicals.

French essayist Georges Bernanos wrote, "The worst, the most corrupting of lies, are problems poorly stated." It is an outrageous lie, one that corrupts intelligent public policy discourse, when we talk of "drug violence." The official corruption and murderous mayhem in both Mexico and on our side of the border are not a result of dried leafy vegetation and white powder. They are the consequence of a lucrative black market, spawning profits for which bad people are willing to kill and die, directly resulting from federal and state laws that prohibit the sale, use, and possession of drugs.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged in Mexico City, this lucrative marketplace is fed by human demand for altered consciousness as insatiable as that which President Obama felt when he regularly sought a nicotine fix, or which George W. Bush experienced when he reached for another bottle of beer. But our leaders weren't thrown in jail for smoking and drinking, and neither were their dealers at the corner convenience store and neighborhood bar.

President Obama promised an end to politics as usual, but he now stands in the way of a long-neglected debate about ending the harm creation of draconian policies which: infringe on individual liberty; rip apart neighbor nations; create government violence against our own people by militarized police forces; cause health harm to the young by forcing psycho-active drugs underground, with no regulation of their content, purity, and strength, or education about how to use them intelligently; promote disrespect for the rule of law, with unequal penalties applied to the rich and to the poor—all factors which have disgracefully transformed the United States of America into the world's number one jailer.

Our government's own research (a 2006 survey by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) reveals that over half of the adult population of America has, at one time, used a controlled substance. Which means—if our drug laws were equally applied—that over 125 million of us would have spent time in jail, as Barack Obama and George W. Bush themselves would have done for what we euphemistically and absurdly call "youthful indiscretions." Obama has admitted using marijuana and cocaine. Bush, who was less candid, simply refused to deny it.

It is understandable why politicians have convinced themselves that drugs are a third rail of public policy and that they therefore don't have to seriously address legalization. The media—the very institution charged by the First Amendment with facilitating intelligent discourse—colludes with the government's drug war rather than challenging politicians to engage a real debate. The Washington Post and The New York Times both require drug-tests from college students seeking summer internships. And both have given the federal government free advertising space to promote First Amendment-infringing drug policy, when the president's Office of Drug Control Policy acquires space for drug war propaganda. Would the Times and the Post ever alcohol-test an aging copy editor, or offer the Department of Defense free space to promote an elective war in the Middle East in return for a full-page ad touting "Mission Accomplished?"

In this time of national economic crisis, we keep looking in our collective rear view mirror for lessons from the 1930s for what we should do, and what we should avoid, in order to restore confidence in ourselves and create hope for our future.

While fiscal and monetary actions taken in that era offer mixed and muddled messages for today's policymakers, another action by a transformational leader in that far-off decade sends a clarion call to us at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Franklin Roosevelt supported the 21st Amendment to end the madness of the 18th, and in so doing halted the devastating social, economic, and cultural costs of Prohibition. That's a lesson Barack Obama needs to heed.

Terry Michael is Director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and a former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. He publishes "thoughts from a libertarian Democrat" at www.terrymichael.net.

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  • TofuSushi||

    Would you guys stop it? That is just stuff Obama has to say to please the fundies in both parties.

  • Xeones||

    one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House

    [citation needed]

  • ||

    Would you guys stop it? That is just stuff Obama has to say to please the fundies in both parties.

    Riddle me this, Tofu... What's the difference between a fundie and somebody who both says and does things to please fundies?

  • Kolohe||

    one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House

    Considering that category includes Wilson, Hoover, and Carter, it doesn't mean much.

  • jtuf||

    While fiscal and monetary actions taken in that era offer mixed and muddled messages for today's policymakers, another action by a transformational leader in that far-off decade sends a clarion call to us at the beginning of the 21st Century.



    Yeah, but centralized economic planning increases the power of government officials and legalization decreases the power of government officials. Incentives are overriding historical evidence.

  • ||

    Fauxbama strikes again.

  • ¢||

    One of the top 50 smartest men to inhabit the White House, maybe. How much of the staff is live-in?

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Marijuana does not create murderous drug cartels in Mexico, writes Terry Michael. America's War on Drugs does. Surely President Barack Obama, one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House in the 21st century, must understand that truth-even if he chooses to laugh-off those of us who want to get serious about legalizing marijuana and other psychoactive chemicals.



    FIFY

  • ||

    one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House



    Oh puh-leaze! This incessant pandering is starting to gag me.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    "Fauxbama"

    That's great!

  • ||

    Remember when NORML thought that Jimmy Carter would put a stop to this nonsense?

    Prohibition is a massive pork-barrel scheme. The chances of either brand of the Ruling Party putting a stop to it are vanishingly small.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Obama may or may not be smart; that has little bearing on whether or not he's evil.

    -jcr

  • gas||

    Man, I cant believe how fast Obama is back peddling on this issue. Wasnt this the same guy who said in 2006 that "our drug policies have been a complete and utter failure." He has asked for the citizens ideas and concerns twice now, and on both occassions the legalization of cannabis has been the number one issue by a staggeringly large margin. When he finally is forced to address the issue he laughs it off, questions the sincerity of the people who pose the thought, and says he doesnt support legalization. This guy is playing politics like the rest of his predecessors, what a joke.

  • ||

    I'm still waiting on any evidence that Obama is smart. Having David Axelrod get you elected so that the Clintons can build their third term doesn't count.

  • ||

    I will point to one hopeful change since the Carter administration: Obama's actually getting some flack over this. Nobody but NORML complained about Carter's business-as-usual policy on drugs.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Having David Axelrod get you elected so that the Clintons can build their third term doesn't count.

    I'd take a third term of Bill over this crap, easy. At least Bill balanced the budget and promoted free trade...

  • Beaker||

    Maybe he's not so smart. Remember in 2001 when we were all being told how lucky we were to have a Harvard educated MBA in the white house? Maybe he's just an idiot savant with a lot charisma and a fear of rejection.

  • ||

    CMS, you don't really believe Clinton would have balanced the budget and promoted free trade with Democrats controlling the congress, do you?

  • ||

    Obama's actually getting some flack over this.

    The oppo to Obama's waffling and backtracking hasn't broken the plane. Its still the same marginalized activists as have always pushed for legalization.

    When I start seeing pro-legalization op-eds in the mainstream media organs that D.C. cares about , I will be convinced that something might happen. Not before.

  • ||

    CMS, you don't really believe Clinton would have balanced the budget and promoted free trade with Democrats controlling the congress, do you?

    That's a fair point... I guess my comment was more pining for the good ol' days than specifically complementing Clinton.

  • Craig||

    He's looking more and more like a one term wonder....

  • ||

    Actually there was a pro legalzation article on CNN the other day, and the Economist came out with a very nice editorial in favor of it as well.

    http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/24/miron.legalization.drugs/index.html

    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13237193


    I think slowly but surely more people are starting to pay attention to this and consider it seriously.

  • ev||

    Ah, and business trods on as usual.

  • Idiota||

    "I'm still waiting on any evidence that Obama is smart. Having David Axelrod get you elected so that the Clintons can build their third term doesn't count."

    I started thinking this when I watched Hillary interviewed about her Mexico trip. Her face said "I don't believe a word I'm saying; I hope no one picks up on that". I think she really, really wants Obama to fail so that she can swoop in, pick up the pieces and occupy the oval office in 2013.

  • Federal Dog||

    "Surely President Barack Obama, one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House, must understand that truth"

    I am so fucking sick of having this lame myth shoved down my throat. This guy is a poster boy for affirmative action: If he had been some white guy, he would have made John Edwards look like an elder statesman.

    Obama won on his skin color and a mindless slogan. That's all he is.

  • ||

    "It's time for Barack Obama to take legalization seriously"

    And it's time for you to realize ... nobody gives a f@#k.

  • LarryA||

    Personally, it continues to amaze me how many otherwise rational people respond to articles like this one with, "I don't care how many people get hurt. We have to keep going. I don't want my kids able to get drugs."

    Last Sunday I heard it from a mother whose teenage daughter is in rehab.

    It's a more widespread version of the emotional-level arguments I hear from people who are totally anti-gun or anti-abortion.

    Besides, we know the Democratic soluton to all the "drug violence:" Assault Weapons Ban Part Deux.

  • ||

    I love the irony of pulling up an article on drug legalization and getting the pop-up ad for Passages rehab center.

  • ||

    LarryA, I wonder sometimes if concerned parents should even have the right to vote.

    Perhaps we should Invest in a Department of Blunt Smokery in order to adequately address this issue.

  • ||

    Fox News had a segment yesterday with one of their hawk regulars, his name escapes me now, who supports decrimilization. When national defense Republicans go on TV and admit it, we are approaching the tipping point.

  • ||

    Obama and the rest of the Washington whore corps are too beholden to Big Pharma ever to seriously consider legalization.

    The end.

  • ||

    It's a more widespread version of the emotional-level arguments I hear from people who are totally anti-gun or anti-abortion.

    You mean pro-abortion, right? The view that an 8-cell blastocyst has rights that outweigh the claims of a pregnant teenaged girl doesn't strike me as being emotionally satisfying.

  • ||

    I have tried to give Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt. But dissing those who are against the Drug War in the way that he did was not an especially smart move by our President. For one thing, he admitted previous drug use himself, so now he looks either like a hypocrite, or one of those ex-sinner, holier-than-thou "saints" that lives of self-destructive vice often create. For another, a great many serious people have come out against the drug war, even as they acknowledge real problems with drug use and abuse. For a third, Obama (as mentioned by another commenter above) has already declared the ineffectiveness of our Drug War approach, and so he at very least should have tempered his "no" with some description of what he WOULD be doing to reform the Drug War.

    On the one hand, we are supposed to think that his administration's call for public input was a gesture of genuine respect towards that same public. On the other hand, the apparent mocking tone of his answer (enabled by the probably deliberate selection of the question he chose to address, rather than hundreds or thousands of other ways to state "end the drug war," which were submitted), reveals an underlying and deep-seated contempt for the people and their actual concerns. It should come as no surprise to anyone that successful machine politicians harbor such contempt. What is surprising is that they are sufficiently incompetent, as to reveal themselves in a high-profile situation that is completely under their control.

  • ||

    "The Libertarian Case for Obama
    Seven potential upsides to a hope-monger presidency (9/19)"

    You mileage may vary.

  • MlR||

    *your

    3 cheers for socialitarianism!

  • Realist||

    Why is anyone suprised by this? You didn't think a Chicago machine politician actually had principles, did you?

  • Marie||

    You really think that Obama is stupid enough to support sweeping drug reform on a national stage (or any president for that matter)? Because that wouldn't become the Republican rally cry against him. The only way there will be serious drug reform is through a popular push, like what has been happening across the country in regards to medical marijuana. Drug policy will never (no matter who is in power) be changed from the top down. We will have to push from the bottom up. If you actually thought Obama would say something different, then you need to step back into political reality.

  • Rick||

    Good article. My only thing is that I would like to see drugs legalized, but still not heavily regulated. Possibly on par with things like alcohol in areas such as drunk driving, where you would put others at a high risk, but alcohol is still overregulated in other areas (like times/quantities/liquor licenses/etc).

  • ||

    The source of America's economic crisis is that we've made drug dealing a government-protected monopoly. Those who passed the drug laws did not have this as their intention, but it is nonetheless what the economist calls "the unintended consequence" of government intervention.

    The only way to enter the market is as a criminal. The only way to gain a market share of the business is to make a deal with the existing drug dealers or to gun some of them down in a 'turf fight'. The only way to stay on-side of the law is to pay bribe money to law-enforcement agents and government officials or set an example by occasionally killing those officials who won't comply -Oro o plombo?

    Either way, you can forget about any possible revival of the economy without first attending to the log-jam of prohibition!

    "Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised" -Tolstoy

  • john||

    I agree with Marie. If you want drug legalization, then it's up to you to change America. Don't expect some politician to do it for you.

  • B||

    "Man, I cant believe how fast Obama is back peddling on this issue."

    I can't believe it either. After all, he has done absolutely nothing hypocritical at all since he was in office. He hasn't signed a bill with 8000+ earmarks after he said he wouldn't, he hasn't issued signing statements, he hasn't defended the right of the US government to hold prisoners indefinitely, he hasn't reserved himself the right to wiretap without a warrant after he relentlessly bashed the Bush administration for it, he hasn't nominated lobbyists to positions in his administration after he said he wouldn't, he hasn't put forth the idea of taxing employee health benefits after he hammered McCain for the same thing, he hasn't changed from his promise to have all troops out of Iraq in 16 months, he hasn't considered doing away with his so-called middle-class tax cuts after he campaigned on giving tax cuts (although his plan doesn't cut one single tax rate)to 95% of Americans.

    I mean, they guy has done absolutely nothing in his first two months, at all, that would make me doubt his sincerity.

  • B||

    What exactly has this guy ever done, other than read off well off a fucking teleprompter, that has proven he is a fucking genius? And why do people feel they have to start off every article with a sycophantic praising of his intelligence before they launch into a tirade demonstrating how fucking clueless the guy has been so far.
    Christ if he were any fucking "smarter" the country would be engulfed in flames (I am not referring to Barney Frank) by now.

  • B||

    "You mean pro-abortion, right? The view that an 8-cell blastocyst has rights that outweigh the claims of a pregnant teenaged girl doesn't strike me as being emotionally satisfying."

    Hey genius, there is no such thing as an "8 cell" blastocyst in humans.

  • ||

    Obama won on his skin color and a mindless slogan. That's all he is.

    I disagree. He's also a very skilled speechifier when the teleprompter's working. He's about as good as Deepak Chopra at spouting feelgood blather without specifics.

    -jcr

  • TallDave||

    Ugh, that video of Biden's daughter doing lines of coke is going to put the nail in the reform coffin.

    Sigh. Drug reformers are always the first under the bus.

  • gas||

    No problem, in 2010 at least one state will legalize marijuana for personal use (probably California or Oregon where legalization is supported by 60%) and then the cat will be out of the bag. It will be interesting at that point to see how politicans and the DEA react. Either they will step aside and allow change to occur, or they will get violent and start cracking heads... either way prohibition will come to an end, ever so slowly.

  • B||

    "Ugh, that video of Biden's daughter doing lines of coke is going to put the nail in the reform coffin."

    And I get a distinct feeling the left and the press (I know, I repeat myself) will claim this is a non-story, even though they went apeshit when the Bush daughters were caught with fake IDs.

  • Justen||

    Studies show that support for deciminalization of cannabis is at an all-time high of around 48%. Legalization is a logical next step, and if it works (which I believe it will) the rest of the evil empire will topple soon enough. The real question is whether we will learn anything valuable in general about the effects of totalitarian thinking.

  • ||

    Every pot smoking hippie believes that his pusher dosn't support the Drug Pushers War in Mexico. Every meth freak and cocaine addict believes that their conduit to illicit drugs is cleaner than new fallen snow. This is what they call a "reality based community".

    I will support the legalization of drugs when the cocaine addicts admit their guilt in starting the Drug Pushers War.

    Do the dope smokers in Berkley support the troops in Mexico, or the pushers?

  • Harry||

    "I will support the legalization of drugs when the cocaine addicts admit their guilt in starting the Drug Pushers War."

    And we're all terrorists because we buy gas...

  • James Raider||

    THE WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON OUR OWN SOCIETY

    Prohibition strains the Constitution and The War on Drugs has been a misguided failure. END IT.

    http://pacificgatepost.blogspot.com/2009/04/war-on-drugs-time-for-change.html

    Time to regain control of our streets and our sanity.

  • James Raider||

  • Scarpe Nike||

    is good

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