Has Obama Really Worked to End the War on Drug Users?

90 Days, 90 Reasons claims Obama "has worked to end the war on drug users."


Over at 90 Days, 90 Reasons, The Guardian's Ana Marie Cox writes that Obama "has already done a great deal and has pledged to do more" to end the war on drug users. Cox's list, however, is pretty short: Obama signed legislation reducing the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack and he included funding for addiction treatment in the Affordable Care Act. (Cox also mentions federal funding for "Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment," but federal funding for SBIRT started in 2003, under George W. Bush.)

Meanwhile, Cox's case for what Obama might do in his second term relies entirely on an un-sourced, one-off GQ report published last July by drug policy dilettante Marc Ambinder. Cox interprets that report thusly: "According to GQ correspondent Marc Ambinder, Obama plans to do more in a second term, though what, exactly, is unclear." This is what Ambinder actually wrote: "Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself….The best thing a president can do may be what Obama winds up doing if he gets re-elected: using the bully pulpit to draw attention to the issue."

So what inspires Cox to write that she will "vote for Obama secure in the knowledge that under a second Obama term, life for those suffering because of the drug war will get better"? Well, there's the reduction in sentencing disparity (which was actually 12 years in the making), and the addiction coverage mandated by Obamacare (which doubles as a handout for a rehab industry that's spent millions lobbying Washington).  

And then there's Mitt Romney:

Romney's promise/threat (Preat? Thromise?) to "repeal Obamacare" would undo these advances.

There are other reasons you should be very scared of what Romney might do when it comes to drug policy. Romney has addressed drug policy in the same way he addresses almost every other vital question facing our country—as vaguely as possible. On the record, he has committed to expanding the U.S.'s attempts to stem the tide of illegal drugs across the Mexican border (a stalemate that has cost approximately 65,000 lives thus far) and he opposes any decriminalization of marijuana—otherwise, he has not said much. As with other policy issues, we must look to those close to him for hints at what might be in store. He keeps pretty gruesome company. One of his top fundraisers, Mel Sembler, is the former owner of a chain of "tough love" rehabs now defunct due to allegations of torture, sexual assault, and mental abuse. The chain's organizational structure morphed into the Drug Free America Foundation, now chaired by Sembler's wife, Betty. DFAF campaigns against the decriminalization of any drug use and against harm reduction policies (needle exchange programs and the like). Romney himself is linked, through Bain Capital, to the Aspen Education Group, another "tough love" rehab conglomerate with a history of abuse and fraud.

Funny that Cox would cite Sembler in her case against Romney, considering that one of his companies has received $250,000 in federal funding under Obama. But if it behooves voters to "look to those close to" a candidate for evidence of what he'll do as president, then let's look at DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. Since the Bush holdover was re-appointed to that position by Obama, Leonhart has made it harder for nursing home residents to receive pain medication; testified before Congress that marijuana is no less dangerous than heroin or meth; and defended the bloodshed in Mexico, saying "It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs….[cartels] are like caged animals, attacking one another." Surely political appointees tell us as much as, if not more than, campaign contribution bundlers?

As for Romney's on-the-record commitment "to expanding the U.S.'s attempts to stem the tide of illegal drugs across the Mexican border"–Obama is committed to the same:

"How long are we going to allow Mexicans to be murdered, and now Americans as well?" a member of the Mexican media asked Obama.

Obama said the United States is putting "unprecedented pressure" on the cartels but that more must be done.

"We are trying to work our way through more effective enforcement mechanisms," he said. But "we recognize that it's not enough and we have to do more."

And let's not forget: Obama is also opposed to marijuana decriminalization, as the DOJ reminded us last month.

When Cox called for the disbanding of the White House press corps in 2009, I clapped for suggestions like this one:

Here are some stories that reporters working the White House beat have produced in the past few months: Pocket squares are back! The president is popular in Europe. Vegetable garden! Joe Biden occasionally says things he probably regrets. Puppy!

Instead of heaping more telegenic reporters into a single White House beat, break up the work among the corps of plugged-in journalists. When the president speaks out on AIG, let financial and labor reporters truth-squad him; when North Korea launches a missile, let defense and Asia specialists assess the White House reaction. Let the beleaguered journalism business prove its worth by providing something you can't get by watching the White House's YouTube channel.

And leave the puppy to me.

While I don't think Cox should limit herself to the puppy beat, I think it's safe to say her drug policy chops need work. I also thinks it's safe to say Obama hasn't done much of anything to end the drug war, or the war on drug users.