Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barack Obama supports cannabis decriminlisation

Some interesting drug policy debates are suddenly opening up in the US presidential race, as detailed in an article in today's Washington Times, with Barack Obama confirming his position in support of decriminalising cannabis possession:

Last fall during a nationally televised presidential debate, Sen. Barack Obama hesitantly raised his hand and joined with most of his Democratic rivals to declare that he opposed decriminalizing marijuana.
But as a candidate for the U.S. Senate four years ago, Mr. Obama told Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use or possession, according to a videotape of a little noticed debate that was obtained by The Washington Times.

"I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," Mr. Obama told an audience during a debate at Northwestern University in 2004. "But I'm not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana."

Asked about the two different answers, Mr. Obama's presidential campaign said he in fact has "always" supported decriminalizing marijuana as he answered in 2004, meaning the candidate mistakenly raised his hand during the presidential debate last fall.

That position leaves Mr. Obama as the lone presidential candidate among the four leading challengers in either party who supports eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana. Mr. Obama's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, opposes decriminalization, Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said.

Obama: Decriminalize pot. Jan Heberkorn Jan 31,2008
Obama's clarification on this issue throws down a gauntlet for Democratic candidate rival Hilary Clinton. If she attacks him for being 'soft on drugs' or for flip-flopping, Obama could recite to her Bill Clinton's valedictory interview with Jann Wenner (Rolling Stone's Dec. 28-Jan. 4, 2001 issue) when he also advocated decriminalisation and criticised mandatory minimums.

Rolling Stone: Do you think that people should go to jail for possessing, using or even selling small amounts of marijuana? Is that appropriate?

Clinton: I think, first of all -

Rolling Stone: We're not publishing this until after the election.

Clinton: I understand that. I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be.

Interestingly this particular Rolling Stone interview was conducted in Oct. 6, 2000 when Clinton was still in office and could, in theory, have acted on his convictions, but it was not published until his final days in office. If challenged by Hilary, Obama could potentially contrast his courageous and principled stand today with Clinton's cowardly, closeted beliefs as President, portraying the issue as Clintonian weaseling of the past vs. Obama's new way of doing politics for the future. Since the two Clintons are effectively running as a tag team against him, it seems fair to bring up Bill Clinton's legacy, and thus if Hillary attacks Obama, she would also be attacking her husband. Could get feisty.

In another recent sign of shifting political sands across the pond the issue of Obama's former drug use, which he had openly described in published writing, became a political issue but not in the way that might be expected. It was raised by one of Hilary Clinton's aides, apparently seeking to make political capital, only for the attack to backfire and result in the aide's resignation, as reported on CNN:
One of Sen. Hillary Clinton's top advisers is stepping down after saying Sen. Barack Obama's admission of past drug use would hurt his chances in a general election matchup.

"I would like to reiterate that I deeply regret my comments yesterday and say again that they were in no way authorized by Sen. Clinton or the Clinton campaign," Bill Shaheen, co-chairman of the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire, said in a statement announcing his decision.

Earlier Thursday, Clinton personally apologized to rival Obama for Shaheen's remarks.

Obama accepted her apology, according to David Axelrod, the top political strategist for the Obama campaign....

"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight ... and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," Shaheen [had] said. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Contrast this contrition and political positioning with the current policy debate in the UK, where the clashes between key political players are all about who is keenest to actually increase prison sentences for cannabis possession. Yes mass-criminalisation of young people has become the latest currency in the UK's party-political 'tough on crime' bidding war. Even in the US (the spiritual home of precisely the kind of old-school drug war rhetoric and posturing that characterises much of the current UK discourse) the debate, and legislation, appears to be making some progress (cannabis is already effectively decriminalised - now a finable offence only - in a number of states, and mandatory minimums are being reduced and/or abolished).

When we are actually lagging behind the US in drug law reform debate you really have to wonder where our leaders are trying to lead us.

UPDATE July 2008: Obama has obviously now won the democrat nomination, so the Clinton issues are now behind us, to be replaced with more familiar Republican /Democrat policy tensions that will, if history is any guide, pull Obama to the political right. However in a recent Rolling Stone interview Obama hints that he is open to a paradigm shift in drug policy away from some of the extreme Drug War responses and refocusing on public health.


Anonymous said...

Obamarama Reality
For all You Obamarama cult members please read below:
Super Tuesday Polls Favor Hillary

Thursday, January 31, 2008 1:26 PM

A survey of the latest polling data in key Super Tuesday states shows Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain ahead by wide margins.
Here's the run-down:
Hillary 43%
Obama 28%

Hillary 37%
Obama 27%

Hillary 49%
Obama 32%

Hillary 32%
Obama 34%

Hillary 40%
Obama 40%

Hillary 41%
Obama 17%

Hillary 25%
Obama 41%

Hillary 22%
Obama 51%

Hillary 27%
Obama 22%

Hillary 59%
Obama 22%

Hillary 47%
Obama 22%

Hillary 43%
Obama 24%

New Jersey
Hillary 49%
Obama 32%

New York
Hillary 56%
Obama 28%

Hillary 44%
Obama 19%

Hillary 34%
Obama 20%

*States without data: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, West Virginia
© 2008 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about polls? Didn't we see how polls were wrong in New Hampshire?

Check out the Obama Supporter Map:

Steve Rolles said...

to be honest im not taking sides in the election - just highlighting the development of the debate re drugs. whoever wins - theres been progress on that front.

Steve Rolles said...

the story on the washington times site has now been given a more political slant, changed to 'Obama flip- flops on Pot'. neiter have made the print edition yet as far as im aware.

chrisbx515 said...

Quote 'When we are actually lagging behind the US in drug law reform debate you really have to wonder where our leaders are trying to lead us?'

I would say they are leading the British public as they always have - up the garden path! To them we are mushrooms fed on s*** and kept in the dark.

Steve Rolles said...

more interesting discussion on this topic here:

Hillary and Obama, Ignore the Sleazy Pollsters Who Want You to Cave on Drug Reform

Pat Rogers said...

I wrote this on the latest Obama flip flop story. Barack Obama....Getting Smaller

Barack Obama is a staunch supporter of the 2005 Combat Meth Act that even the U.S. Justice Department's 2007 National Drug Threat Assessment said caused increases in the purity and distribution of meth in the U.S. as well as increased proliferation of Mexican drug gangs on the streets of America. Barack Obama: A Stereotype of Conventional Wisdom

Obama's solution for post Katrina crime in New Orleans was to promise to send in more DEA agents to lock up poor people who have no other income but drugs. He could have promised more drug rehab dollars to get indigent addicts off the streets and out of the need to use crime for basic economic subsistence but all Obama had to offer was more right-wing pandering Jim Crow authoritarianism.Sen. Obama's solution for post-Katrina poverty; police oppression

Hillary is no better. She promises to return America to the halcyon days of Bubba Bill's world record prison populations.

I may never be able to vote for a Democrat again. I haven't voted for a Democratic candidate since the Clinton's drove me out of the Democratic Party in 1996.

Since the only leverage I have is to deny these thugs my vote I have voted third party or Independent since 1996. BOYCOTT VOTING FOR DRUG WARRIORS!Its the only way to change the politics of the Jim Crow drug war..

Anonymous said...

isn't this a non story? something he said ages ago reported by a right wing Moonie-owned rag?

Steve Rolles said...

max - yes he said it ages ago but it is relevant now as he is running for president, and also to highlight the disjuncture with the backwards debate in the UK. I don't care about the source since its not disputed and the video evidence is provided.

Anonymous said...


Mr. Obama's differing answers on marijuana are among a half-dozen conflicts between positions he took while running for Senate in 2004 and those he now articulates while running for president, a review of debate tapes shows. Other conflicts range from ending the embargo against Cuba to providing health care for illegal immigrants.

Obama’s Chief of Staff is a Crazy Drug Warrior

Obama's Biden Pick Signals 'More of the Same' Stupid Drug Policies

Obama flip-flops on pot

Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates Reject Call To Decriminalize Pot
Philadelphia, PA: Democratic Presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) oppose decriminalizing marijuana so Americans who use pot recreationally would no longer face arrest and imprisonment.

The Blurry Edges of Obama's Memory

Barack Obama is just another political con-artist who holds up his finger to see which way the wind is blowing and then tells his audience what he thinks they want to hear. He has repeatedly lied about his position and now has appointed an unrepentant, rabid fascist to his cabinet. Remember, laws against possession are laws against consumption. Laws against consumption are based on the flawed fascist premise that might makes right and your body is government property. Like his predecessors, Obama will maintain the American empire, protect the slave state, and preserve the status quo. This man is not a savior--he is just another business-as-usual politician who cares about his own career more than he cares about human rights. It's time for people to face the facts: THERE IS NO MEANINGFUL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DEMOCRAT & REPUBLICAN PARTIES. These century-old private corporations are corrupt beyond any hope of reform--and so is anyone they endorse for president.