Obama's Belated Drug War Retreat


Before moving into the White House, Barack Obama described the war on drugs as "an utter failure," candidly discussed his own youthful drug use, criticized our excessively punitive criminal justice system, called for the decriminalization of marijuana, and rejected federal interference with state-authorized medical use of the plant. But with the exception of a crack sentencing reform bill he signed in 2010, Obama's first term was a big disappointment for those who expected him to de-escalate the war on drugs.

Some reformers held out hope that once Obama was safely re-elected, he would finally act on his avowed belief that the war on drugs is unjust and ineffective. To some extent, those optimists were proven right. During his second term, Obama tolerated state-level legalization of marijuana, talked honestly about the relative hazards of alcohol and marijuana, removed barriers to medical marijuana research, shortened more than 1,000 drug offenders' sentences, and spoke out against draconian drug penalties.

During Obama's first term, the promises to respect state policy choices were contradicted by medical marijuana raids, prosecutions, and forfeiture actions. But the 2012 elections, when voters in Colorado and Washington approved initiatives that legalized marijuana for recreational use, presented him with a moment of truth: He could try to stop legalization, or he could step back and let states go their own way. By choosing the latter route, he hastened the collapse of pot prohibition instead of wasting resources on a doomed effort to prevent it.

Obama further undermined prohibition by publicly conceding that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. But he was not prepared to change marijuana's legal status at the federal level, whether through administrative action or by urging Congress to act. Although marijuana remains in Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act, the Obama administration did take steps to facilitate studies of the plant's medical applications, removing an extra level of bureaucratic review and allowing independent production of cannabis for research.

After issuing just one commutation during his first term and a total of 20 in 2013 and 2014, Obama tried to make up for lost time by approving a lot more in his last two years. As of December 1, his total was 1,024, almost all involving nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom had received life sentences. He emphasized that Congress had the power to help thousands more by approving retroactive sentencing reforms, a bipartisan effort that fizzled in 2016 amid legislators' pre-election anxieties.

The Obama administration's crackdown on painkiller prescriptions hurt bona fide patients and fed the demand for heroin. But its response to the "opioid epidemic" emphasized treatment and harm reduction rather than punishment. As with marijuana legalization, it's what Obama didn't do that mattered most.

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  1. "Treatment and harm reduction" re opiates. Good for the Administration, I'm sure that those who need heavy painkillers and cannot get them and those who have had to turn to heroin would love to thank the guy. When they do eventually go to prison for buying the street drugs they need to treat their problem they can shake hands with the doctors who have been tossed in the clink for writing opiate prescriptions. Yeah, a fucking solid B plus.

    1. Exactly. Best I can tell the enforcement agencies needed new blood to attack, and who better to attack than those using legal drugs. We can't have people getting around our moral laws.

      The good news is think of all the kids we helped! They will never have the advantage of really knowing their parents.and that's good for them so they won't do drugs, I guess? We have to save those kids by locking up their parents for long sentences. Empirical evidence be damned.

      And for you judgy McJudgersons that want to espouse your perfection of having never done drugs so everyone else should be held to your standard, I don't do drugs either. I might drink a beer per week. One beer. Get off your fucking high horse and realize your personal standard doesn't mean shit.

      Near teetotaler out.

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  2. It's almost as if he made promises during his campaign that he had no intention of keeping. Weird!

    1. Wait...a politician lied??!?!??


      1. *waves smelling salts under Switzy's nose*
        "Get up Sir, come on high speed, MOVE OUT AND DRAW FIRE!"

  3. PR, and little more. Prep PenandPhone could have done much more, if he really gave a shit.

    1. it is curious how the staff wants to contort itself in order to avoid reality. All of the things they projected onto Obama went for shit, too.

      1. Yeah, Sullum has been a left-wing stooge masquerading as a libertarian-minded fella for years.

      2. At least we have a post-racial America.

  4. Don't say 'first term' and 'second term', say 'first seven years' and 'last year'. While lame duckiness may seem to apply, it doesn't; if that had been his only holdup, he wouldn't have waited until 3 more years of hope to change things. Don't think lame duckiness applied to Congressional elections either; he would have started a year earlier.

    He's just a statist chump.

  5. Please just stop. He had eight years to do something and chose not to do a damn thing. Obama was willing to use the bully pulpit of the office for the things he cared about. Memo to Reason staff: drug policy was NOT one of those things.

    1. Memo to Reason staff; everything about his Presidency indicates that any good he may have done was purely accidental.

  6. A Gettysburg museum is auctioning off some wax figures of the Presidents.

    "Some visitors at a recent auction preview came to remember. "It was real creepy at night, because it was only you," said Joyce Coulter, 56, who worked there during the 1970s, adding that President Lyndon B. Johnson had the most unsettling eyes."

    1. Stick in a wick and make candles out of 'em.

      1. Anti-semite, probably a member of the altright?

        1. Wax figures ... candles made of wax ... candles need wicks. Made a perfect train of humorous thought to me.

          No matter how horrendous something in the past was, you don't need to be a snowflake all the time. Not everything is slanted towards or even thought connected with the most evil possible interpretation.

    2. Stop attacking LBJ. He's cited by some historian in the latest "Parade" Sunday supplement as being one of our "kindest" presidents. Jeez, he even mistreated dogs which is something even "you know who" didn't.

      1. Yes, in an ironic twist, President James Garfield was a well-known dog-lover.

        (source: a warm, moist place)

        1. Wow, I was actually right by accident - President Garfield had a Newfoundland dog named Veto who (allegedly) literally reined in a misbehaving horse with his teeth and warned about the outbreak of a fire.

  7. OT: I read a great book yesterday by Thomas D'Lorenzo called The Problem With Socialism. My favorite gem was this:

    "Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won? Capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism."

    ? Robert Heilbroner, "The Triumph of Capitalism," The New Yorker, January 23, 1989, p. 98.

    Heilbroner was a lifelong socialist economics professor. Later in the same piece, he concluded that socialism was still needed to battle environmental problems. That's even dumber. Pollution is always way worse in socialist countries.

    1. While I was in the book store, I saw a number of Trump survival guides and a hilarious pile forlorn, never to be sold Clinton books.

      1. What's a Trump survival guide? A 'clever' book written by someone who finds himself amusing, on how 'good people' can last through a Trump presidency?

        1. http://www.thetrumpsurvivalguide.com/

          "Everything You Need To Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen"

          Free box of Depends with every purchase.

          1. Same turd burglar also wrote Bush Survival guide.


    "The American Civil War played a pivotal role in bringing the nation's deaf population out of society's shadows, asserts a forthcoming book by a former NTID professor [NTID = National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of nine colleges making up the Rochester Institute of Technology].

    "[Author Harry G.] Lang found that there were hundreds of soldiers who had partial or complete deafness before the war but managed to join the Union and Confederate armies. This total includes about a dozen commanders, most notably the Union's Gen. John Gross Bernard, who oversaw the building of forts around Washington, D.C., after the first Battle of Bull Run, and Confederate Gen. Maxcy Gregg, whose death at the Battle of Fredericksburg was attributed to deafness.

    "But that tells just part of the story.

    "During the war, there were also tens of thousands of men who were deafened by artillery, concussion, disease, illness and exposure. Many of these men continued to fight after becoming deaf.

    ""So, deafness was a common phenomenon in the camps and on the battlefield ? including temporary deafness from battle noise," said Lang."

    1. There should be ellipses between the first and second paragraphs

    2. During WWI, deafness was seen as inevitable for British artillerymen. They were told "everyone is sacrificing something for the war. You are sacrificing your hearing."

      What a load of shit. Wax earplugs are mentioned in The Odyssey- Odysseus plugged his ears with wax so he would not be lured to his death by the Sirens' song.

      Fun fact: Odysseus and Odyssey come from a Greek word that means trouble- both one who experiences it or causes it.

      1. That IS interesting!

  9. "Giordano's Famous Stuffed Deep Dish Pizza, the Chicago-based restaurant company internationally known for its stuffed deep dish pizza pies has opened their first location in Las Vegas. The new, full-service restaurant is located at 3619 Las Vegas Blvd. South on the Las Vegas Strip at Grand Bazaar Shops, adjacent to Bally's Las Vegas."

  10. "Obama disappointed many supporters by doing very little to reform drug policy in his first term."

    Just to be clear, in Obama's first term, he conducted 270 raids on medical marijuana dispensaries--in states where medical marijuana was legal.

    Anybody who ever believes anything Obama says--because Obama says it--is an idiot. I couldn't pretend to be stupid enough to take Barack Obama's word for anything. He's an authoritarian jackass, and he's also a pathological liar.

  11. Teen left in agony after botching job to circumcise himself with MACHETE

    "Doctors at St Lukes Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, rushed him in by ambulance for urgent treatment then carried out the procedure correctly then stitched up his penis and bandaged the painful wound....

    ""Provincial medical director Nyasha Masuka said:'It seems the other boys were laughing at him for not being circumcised so he used a machete to circumcise himself and injured himself in the process.'"

  12. Ivanka Trump's Dangerous Fake Feminism

    "...while Ms. Trump has found both professional and personal success by enjoying many of the benefits of feminism, she is far from an avatar of a feminist future. Instead, she's a kind of post-feminist huckster, selling us traditional femininity and support of male power wrapped up in a feminist bow...

    "...it is important to note that Mr. Trump chose the male half of the Trump-Kushner pair to serve in the West Wing, presumably with the blessing of his daughter....

    "Ms. Trump's clear ambition remains unobjectionable in part because she seems to require nothing of men. She affirms her status as a wife and a mother first and a businesswoman second....

    "Her push for paid parental leave is certainly laudable and especially out of the box for the Republican Party, but [etc]"

    1. I heard she was basically going to be serving as First Lady. Then I heard how it would be illegal under nepotism laws for any Trump child to serve on his White House staff. Now they are pissed because she is not on his staff? Something tells that no matter what Trump did he would be criticized.

      1. I think you're confusing it with his son-in-law, who is going to be an official advisor.

  13. YouTube removes influential conservative website's channel

    The Legal Insurrection website, which is widely cited in the conservative media, receives hundreds of thousands of visitors a month. Its YouTube channel contained a wealth of content, including original reporting, according to Jacobson.

    1. MLA hit 'em with a copyright violation complaint for reporting on their condemnation of Israel?

      That's obviously a bogus copyright claim, and I bet YouTube reinstates them quickly. The issue here isn't YouTube. The issue is the MLA.

      Send the MLA an email using APA citation format. That'll teach 'em!

  14. Sex-worker representatives are meeting with anti-sex-trafficking activists at a conference at Yale University. The objective is to find a common-sense compromise which will give law enforcement the tools it needs without infringing on the legitimate autonomy of sex workers.

    I just hope the sex-worker advocates don't sell out and endorse unacceptable policies in the name of "compromise."

    Anyway, Reason will be there covering every moment of the conference...

    OK, I was just kidding, it's actually a conference of LGBLT activists and religious-freedom supporters trying to hammer out a compromise.

    And, no, I am not aware that Reason is covering it.

  15. Way too late, and way too little. Everybody knows that Obama knows firsthand what a big deal weed is not, and the fact its still illegal at all is disgraceful. I wasn't excited at all about Obamas election, but I figured hed at least reschedule marijuana and improve race relations at least a little. By my count so far, he's done neither. I guess the lesson is that no matter how low your expectations, politicians will find a way to disappoint you

    1. Same here.

  16. "...I figured hed at least reschedule marijuana and improve race relations at least a little."

    Does a community organizer organize communities? Build schools, hospitals, public meeting places? Do they heal wounds? Bring people together? Make peace and sooth grievances? Exactly what do community organizers do?

    1. Yknow I still don't have any idea. I thought just the fact that america wouldn't be a place a black man couldn't be president anymore would go a long way aside from anything else he did or didn't do, but I suspect people would be less likely to support a black presidential candidate now that 100% of black presidents were obama (i think thats still overgeneralizing, but it would be understandable to me)

    2. The organize protests of one sort or another mostly.

  17. So? The Democratic platform was full of men with guns to ban energy, tax, confiscate and regulate, shoot teenagers and bomb the other side of the planet. But repeal marijuana prohibition or relegalizing drugs in general wasn't in there. The only substantive difference from the GO-Pee urinalysis party platform was keeping. They got the beating they so richly deserved, and we got a 328% increase in spoiler votes with which to change the laws and repair their dereliction.

  18. Obama is a coward and petulant child. That's the only nice things that I can think of to say about him.

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