Obama Has Already Quietly Begun Revising the Government’s War on Drugs
by James Higdon.
NEVER MIND A second term, Barack Obama’s pivot on the drug war has
While Marc Ambinder’s much discussed, scantily-sourced GQ report of a
second-term “pivot” runs through the murderers’ row of complaints
against the Drug War—the cocaine/crack disparity; mandatory minimum
sentencing; property-seizure laws and the fattening of the corrections
industry—he doesn’t report that the president’s “aides and associates”
have identified any of these as a starting point for Obama to “tackle”
“Don’t expect miracles,” Ambinder cautions, and that’s where he gets
it wrong. The miracle has already happened. Here’s the answer that
Ambinder’s anonymous sources failed to leak to him: the pivot point
for Obama’s new direction is homegrown marijuana, and it’s already
The presidential request for the FY13 budget deals a mortal blow to
the helicopter-powered marijuana eradication umbrella. It does so by
cutting in half the funding for the U.S. National Guard Counterdrug
program, the Defense Department’s contribution to the
marijuan-eradication effort that has, for the past 20 years, limited
the size of domestic marijuana patches and increased the demand for
“blood pot” imported by ultraviolent Mexican drug cartels—while doing
nothing to stem the supply to anyone who wants to get high.
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
“We’re not going to have legalized weed anytime soon,” the president
told late-night television host Jimmy Fallon in April. But there’s a
lot a president can do to unwind the marijuana prohibition without
going full-on Peter Tosh. After all, how effective is an umbrella with
holes in it?
Without a fully functional eradication program, the feds cannot keep
domestic pot production down. So even if it remains illegal, domestic
production could boom during FY13, the first growing season of Obama’s
potential second term.
The road map to pot decriminalization, an essential first step for any
pivot on the drug war, 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.
The simple fact that President Obama would even consider breaking the
taboo of the marijuana prohibition is itself a miracle, given that our
last president from the Democratic Party gave us the 1996 federal
three-strikes law, which remains one of the most outrageous components
of the pot prohibition, sending nonviolent marijuana growers to prison
for life without parole for the offense of persistent criminal
When Obama makes public his drug-war pivot, he will have 40 years of
an abusive relationship between the Oval Office and marijuana to undo.
When Ambinder says that drug laws in America “were created almost
nakedly to marginalize disfavored groups,” what he’s talking about in
part is how President Nixon doubled down on the already-in-place
marijuana prohibition on the morning of May 26, 1971.
“I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana,” Nixon told his
chief-of-staff, Bob Haldeman. “I mean one on marijuana that just tears
the ass out of them ... By God we are going to hit the marijuana
thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss ...”
President Reagan followed suit with a massive expansion of the federal
government’s powers in matters of drug-related justice: eliminating
federal parole; creating mandatory minimum sentences, and allowing
federal agents to seize land and property from people merely suspected
of being involved in “drugs,” whether those drugs were marijuana or
heroin, in complete disregard of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment
Any détente of the drug war that Obama might tackle in his theoretical
second term must include, eventually, 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.
In other words, in his second term, President Obama needs to kick
Richard Nixon right square in the puss. In the meantime, by easing
enforcement of domestic marijuana cultivation, thereby reducing demand
for Mexican blood pot and freeing up Defense Department assets to send
to the Southwest, the president can achieve another of his campaign
promises: improving our border security.