Obama Scaled Back the War on Drugs, and I Missed It

One-upping GQ's Marc Ambinder, who recently predicted that Barack Obama "will pivot to the drug war" in his second term if he is re-elected, The Daily Beast's James Higdon claims the president already has scaled back the crusade to stop Americans from altering their consciousness in politically disfavored ways. Higdon's evidence: less money in the administration's fiscal year 2013 budget for marijuana-spotting helicopters. Seriously:

Until now, the DEA and state law enforcement could count on the National Guard to fly hundreds of helicopter hours over national forests and other public land, where growers became active following the passage of property-seizure laws in the Reagan years—but the FY13 budget changes that.

The 50-percent cut is not being apportioned evenly across the states—it’s a two-thirds cut in Oregon and a 70-percent cut in Kentucky, while the Southern border states are receiving less severe reductions in funding. It’s essentially a diversion of Defense Department assets away from the interior American marijuana fields to where the national-security risk is greatest: along our Southern border.

Higdon sees this budgetary rejiggering, which by his own admission will have no impact on the amount of marijuana supplied to or consumed by Americans, as a landmark on "the road map to pot decriminalization." That map, he says, "can be found in the executive order President Obama issued on immigration to effectively implement components of the DREAM Act without the help of Congress by ordering his executive branch to de-prioritize enforcement of certain laws." Higdon's implication is that Obama could (as Mike Riggs has suggested) do the same sort of thing with drug policy, using his executive power to make it less aggressively unjust. But that does not mean he will. Here are some facts that suggest he won't: Obama has delivered the opposite of what he promised with respect to medical marijuana, he has not backed any significant drug policy reforms except for reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder, he has repeatedly laughed at the very idea of legalizing pot, his administration continues to absurdly insist that marijuana belongs on Schedule I, and he has commuted exactly one of the many drug sentences that he condemned as senselessly draconian before he was elected. Higdon is so desperate to find evidence that Obama is a reformer that he latches onto a remark the president made on Jimmy Fallon' talk show in April: "We’re not going to have legalized weed anytime soon." To Higdon, who calls Ambinder's piece "scantily sourced," that line means Obama is thinking about "breaking the taboo of the marijuana prohibition."

It is telling that Higdon sees Richard Nixon as the embodiment of the war on drugs, saying "President Obama needs to kick Richard Nixon right square in the puss" through "a massive legislative package that returns America to a pre-Nixon posture on pot; flattens the cocaine/crack disparity; eliminates mandatory minimum sentences; re-instates federal parole for nonviolent and victimless crimes; reins in property-seizure laws; grounds the fleet of pot-spotting helicopters; and grants blanket clemency for those currently serving federal prison time for trumped-up marijuana crimes." As I noted last year in connection with what was billed (rather arbitrarily) as the 40th anniversary of Nixon's war on drugs, Nixon, contrary to his reputation, supported a kinder, gentler approach to drug policy that was similar to the recommendations of many contemporary reformers, featuring compassion for addicts, treatment instead of prison, and condemnation of needlessly harsh penalties. Never mind kicking Nixon in the puss. If Obama embraced Nixon's drug policies, that might count as an improvement. 

For more on how Obama has disappointed supporters (except for James Higdon) who hoped he would be better on drug policy than his predecessor, see my October Reason cover story.

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  • John Galt||

    A little difficult to believe considering that Obama reminds me more of Nixon than Nixon himself.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Obama's cover-up scandal is worse than Tricky Dick's. Nobody died in the Watergate fracas. Tricky Dick had an "enemies list", but all he did was order Hoover to harass them.

    He never had the nerve to imagine he could get away with imprisoning someone without trial, or even holding them after an acquittal, let alone ordering them blown to bits by remote control without so much as a warrant.

    -jcr

  • Voxpo||

    So Higdon was imagining Obama kicking a puss in jackboots, forgetting that the shoe is on the other fatcat. I'd suggest that almost any "massive legislative package" is a better target anyway.

  • deified||

    The gratuitous Nixon-slander is vile and moronic.

    Higdon should DIAF.

  • Paul.||

    Biden 2016!

    I hope Romney has his concession speech in the can.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I actually saw a Romney bumpersticker on the freeway today. Even the logo looked like a begrudging compromise.

  • Hugh Akston||

    With all of the mental gymnastics that Noozweak/DailyBeast are doing to cast Obama as some kind of 11-dimensional chess master who is reforming the system in ways our tiny mortal minds can barely comprehend, we should send them to London to represent the US this summer.

  • Paul.||

    I was going to say that the Olympics was an amateur event. But that's changed now, so they should be good.

  • John C. Randolph||

    James Higdon: delusional, or a liar?

    -jcr

  • ||

    Higdon is so desperate to find evidence that Obama is a reformer that he latches onto a remark the president made on Jimmy Fallon' talk show in April: "We’re not going to have legalized weed anytime soon."

    The president saying they're not gonna legalize weed, and taking that as evidence of the president's desire to reform drug policy: delusional.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Tobias Fünke: You know, Mother Lucille, there's a psychological concept known as denial, that I believe you're evincing. It's when a thought is so hateful that the mind literally rejects it.
    Lucille: You are a worse psychiatrist than you are a son-in-law, and you will never get work as an actor because you have no talent.
    Tobias Fünke: Well, if she's not going to say anything, I certainly can't help her.
    [leaves room]

  • ||

  • jason||

    Once president obama want to take war on the drugs but for the elections he have to stop this.

  • ||

    ?? ESL?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I think more like LSD.

  • The Hammer||

    LSD doesn't make you an idiot.

  • Xenocles||

    He did say that he'd have a lot more flexibility after the election.

  • Number 2||

    Face it...anyone who takes his political insights from GQ or the Daily Beast is a lost cause. And they likely don't vote anyway.

  • Rich||

    "President Obama needs to kick Richard Nixon right square in the puss"

    Well, I suppose that's better than eating his face.

  • Tulpa the White||

    You don't need helicopters when you've got drones to do the same job cheaper.

    Maybe I should ask him about this when he comes to Pgh today.

  • R C Dean||

    The sudden rash of pro-Obama stories aimed at re-energizing the yoot vote shows that Son of JournoList is alive and well.

    Seriously, not one single actual new development to support the new Choomer in Chief meme, and we have two stories within a few days?

  • Anomdebus||

    I think it is very possible we will see "something" from Obama if he is reelected, especially if the republicans do well in congress. Just like the budget he sent over, we will see a proposal that has some good points (to us), but not very substantial and will get very little support.
    He will forget the selective enforcement, except maybe with mmj, where he may propose easing off dispensaries that have a very high level of state endorsement, high verification requirements and an expensive bond that can be seized should some product find its way into a not sick person's hands.

  • Bobarian||

    And you're basing this on...

    Hope?

    Change?

    Voices in your head?

  • Anomdebus||

    Way to not pay attention to Obama brand politics or the subtleties of the post you are responding to...

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