Monday, December 01, 2008

Obama: Fix U.S. Drug Policy

As he prepares his new administration, Obama has the opportunity to appoint a "Drug Czar" who will shift drug policy toward a public health model and away from a criminal justice model. The US based campaigning and advocacy group Students for Sensible Drug Policy have set up a petition on the social networking site Facebook to let the new president know that a change in drug policy is needed.

In the unlikely event you are unaware of Facebook, it's basically a huge online social network (like its forerunner MySpace, but aimed at non-teenagers) now with over 100 million members. You can sign up in minutes and put as much or as little personal information on your page as you choose (as well as setting privacy and access controls). There's all manner of political and social policy activity in the Facebook network that's worth having a nose around, with endless possibilities to publicise causes, reach new audiences, debate and fund raise (as Obama's presidential Facebook campaign demonstrated).

Where Obama is going to take US drug policy remains unknown - to my knowledge it did not feature even once in the McCain election battle. But we can be sure that Obama wont be as hawkish as his predecessor, and he has certainly been making some positive noises in the few public comments he has made (this Rolling Stone Interview for example, or his previous commitment to cannabis decriminalisation here) that suggests at the very least the US War on Drugs may have now passed its high tide mark. That said, two of his key appointments, Rahm Emanuel and Joe Biden, are old school drug warriors and they will be influential even if it will be Obama calling the shots. This all makes the Drug Tsar appointment all the more key, even if only as an indication of how Obama plans to play his cards. There are plenty of whispers, rumours and gossip about the appointment - but it is unlikely to happen until Spring and is clearly not in the bag yet.

US drug policy is, of course, enormously influential globally; directly on our Government, through the UN drug agencies and via their various certification processes and other forms of geo-political pressure. Like the November 4th election - the upcoming decisions will have impacts for us all. I don't necessarily think drug policy petitions have much impact but, if nothing else, they show common cause for the activists and demonstrate that people and its all, you know, water building behind the dam. The petition open to all to sign, has 4000 signatures and is gaining 1000 a day, aiming for 10,000 with 55 days to run. Seems eminently achievable.

The SSDP petition is all, unsurprisingly, sensible stuff. It focuses on some of the most egregious drug war injustices of the previous administration and calls for a general shift in approach (all points that Obama has already flagged up in the Rolling Stone interview), avoiding the 'third rail' issues like the legalisation/regulation debate. The text is as follows:

When you called the War on Drugs an "utter failure" in 2004, you were right. A 2008 Zogby poll found that 3 out of 4 of Americans agree with you.

When appointing the head of your Office of National Drug Control Policy, please select someone with health, science, or education credentials rather than a military general, law enforcement official, or "tough on drugs" politician. The next "Drug Czar" should base policy on proven methodology rather than counterproductive Ideology. At a minimum, he or she should support these measures:

*Ending the racially unjust disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine.

*Ending the practice of prosecuting patients in states with medical marijuana laws.

*Eliminating the federal law that denies financial aid to students with drug convictions.

We all know that the War on Drugs is failing because handcuffs don't cure addictions -- doctors do. You have the opportunity to bring us the change we need. Will you?


The Undersigned......

Further information:

SSDP facebook petition (you may need to install the causes application first)

Stop the Drug War Blog: unrivaled coverage and discussion on Obama's new administration and related drug policy issues


john-boi said...

I hope i ma proved wrong but looking at the appointments that Obama has made Biden and Clinton for starters we are going to get the same old same old in most US policies including drug policy.
What was the old who song "Meet the new boss..same as the old Boss"

Cynical moi!!!!

Anonymous said...

I think Obama's selections so far have shown acute political savvy. Therefore, I don't see him being radical in such a controversial policy area, at least in his first term.

I just hope he doesn't settle on this issue as a battleground with "far left blogs", who are unanimously opposed to the WoD.

Blair Anderson said...

Obamalogues could do worse than support one health initiative that moves the goal posts. New Zealand just created Class D. A legislative response to identified short comings in the ABC (essentially criminal) classifications. It makes provision for sale, advertising, labelling and age of consent. Applicable to all recreational "Soft Drugs". All done by Order in Council. It is now the 'law' by royal assent [6th Nov 2008] two days before our national election. It has pasted political and public muster passed without as much as a whimper. It is both a 'convention compliant' and Ottawa Charter principled answer enabling at a granular scale full "range of policy alternatives that merit serious consideration".
It might be the palatable solution to US state rights while compassionately moderating the medicinal pot dispartity inter-state and inter border. Obama needs a Drug Czar for all teh right reasons... one who can see through some congressional due process and the greater part of the racial and economic problems that acrue from soft drug issues are resolved. Class D, De-classify, net harms become net benefits.

Steve Rolles said...

Blair - I thought the only drug in 'class D' (I don't think soft drugs is a useful term - its best avoided IMHO) was BZP and that it had been removed. I agree its a useful model but its not much good if its not being used.

Blair Anderson said...

The NZ regulatory model usefully defines in the explanatory notes that "soft" drugs include those that are used recreation ally, can be psychoactive and pose little to moderate harm. Not bad legislation IMHO. Yes the vessel is empty, but we are no longer fighting for a law change or the regulatory model.... we have it and therein lies the argument for putting cannabis (and likely MDMA, LSD, shrooms etc.) into it. It is now simply a question of 'process'.

The NZ Law Commission's review of ALL drug policy (including alcohol as one informs the other) with special reference to adherence to international covenants fairly puts this process beyond mere rhetoric and politics.

The international community should be aware this an opportunity for a New Holland.. only better!

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