Old Democratic Position on Drugs Going Up In Smoke

One of the rapidly developing second-term problems for Barack Obama is his administration’s retrograde commitment to elements of the failed War on Drugs, and particularly the legal collision soon to occur between federal anti-drug warriors and states whose voters have chosen peace. Here’s Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson with the basics:

Legalization has set Colorado and Washington on a collision course with the Obama administration, which has shown no sign of backing down on its full-scale assault on pot growers and distributors. Although the president pledged to go easy on medical marijuana – now legal in 18 states – he has actually launched more raids on state-sanctioned pot dispensaries than George W. Bush, and has threatened to prosecute state officials who oversee medical marijuana as if they were drug lords. And while the administration has yet to issue a definitive response to the two new laws, the Justice Department was quick to signal that it has no plans to heed the will of voters. “Enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act,” the department announced in November, “remains unchanged.”

Dickinson quotes administration insiders as suggesting that mid-level bureaucrats marinated in the War on Drugs are responsible for the unwillingness to reconsider policies now that states are moving rapidly away from “Just Say No.”

And there’s no question the administration’s policies are being affected by ancient fears of liberal vulnerability on the subject. Even if today’s dope-smokers are as likely to be libertarian MBAs and/or African-Americans as the white slacker hippies of legend and lore, stereotypes die hard.

In urging Obama to get with the program, Andrew Sullivan makes it angry and personal:

[I]f [Obama’s appointees] decide to treat the law-abiding citizens of Colorado and Washington as dangerous felons; if they decide to allocate their precious law enforcement powers to persecuting and arresting people for following a state law that they have themselves just passed by clear majorities; if they decide that opposing a near majority of Americans in continuing to prosecute the drug war on marijuana, even when the core of their own supporters want an end to Prohibition, and even when that Prohibition makes no sense … then we will give them hell.

And it will get personal. The president wasn’t just once a pot-smoker, he was a very serious pothead. His own life and career prove that this substance is no more potentially damaging to a human being than alcohol, which is not only legal but marketed to us with abandon. The future coalition he has built – especially its Millennial base – will splinter. Maybe even some libertarian Republicans will seize the issue and champion federalism consistently for a change.

This last suggestion ain’t happening any time soon, but Sullivan is speaking for a lot of angry people here. If the administration can agree not to make enforcement of other bad laws–like the Defense of Marriage Act–a prosecutorial priority, it can do exactly the same thing with pot.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.