Pubdate: Fri, 7 Nov 2008
Source: DrugSense Weekly (DSW)
Section: Feature Article
Author: Pete Guither
Note: Pete Guither is the author of Drug WarRant, 
http:/ a weblog at the front lines of the drug 
war, where this piece was first presented.


OK, we have a new President, probably a new direction, lots of new 
possibilities (and also the possibility that nothing will change).

Putting aside temporarily my usual mantra that our efforts must be to 
motivate the people rather than count on politicians...

What's going to happen? When? How can we have input?

First, here's what's not going to happen:

* Day One: President Obama, with a stroke of his pen, removed 
marijuana from the Controlled Substances Scheduling completely, 
saying "If the states want to waste their time and money arresting 
people over a plant, that's their problem. The federal government has 
no interest here."

* Day Two: The Drug Enforcement Administration was gutted today... 
Well, you get the idea.

Here's what conceivably might happen relatively early, but if so, 
fairly quietly.  The DEA might simply stop conducting medical 
marijuana raids.  Since that's a sporadic activity, it could take 
some time before some bright person in the press asked about it. At 
that point, some low-level functionary would be tasked to respond 
with something like:

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law. There are no exceptions for 
so-called medical marijuana, and we will arrest those who break the 
law.  At this time we have simply had higher priorities for our drug 
enforcement agents."

And the message would quietly go to the states that as long as 
medical marijuana programs stayed low profile, there would be no 
federal presence.

I consider that scenario (or something similar) to actually be quite likely.

So, what about further reform? And what about the drug czar?

A must-read is Eric Sterling's post: Morning-after Question: "Who 
will be the Obama Administration's drug policy appointees?" ( see ).  Eric knows how things work in 
putting together an administration's team, and I think he's right on 
the money in two areas in particular -- one, on when policy changes 
might occur:

"Selecting appointees is a higher priority than making any policy 
decisions.  First, it is easier for the media to count up 'unfilled' 
positions and blame the new Administration for being 'slow' to fill 
vacancies.  Second, because few policy changes are without political 
costs, most changes will require extensive preparation of the 
public.  The possible exceptions might be medical marijuana and 
sterile syringe exchange which have large public support."

Hence the notion of a quiet move toward relaxing medical 
marijuana-fighting efforts.

Second, Eric notes that we shouldn't expect a new Drug Czar very soon.

"I would not be looking for an announcement of a nominee to be the 
ONDCP director until the Spring.  DEA can operate with an acting 
director, likely to be a career DEA manager, for a long time, as can 
NIDA.  The decision of DEA Administrator won't come before a new 
Attorney General has time to orient himself or herself."

In 2001, George W.  Bush didn't appoint Walters until May and he 
wasn't sworn in until December.  Asa Hutchinson wasn't head of the 
DEA until August.

So we probably have a little time. Eventually, though, President 
Obama is going to have to act on an appointment -- it's probably 
unlikely that the ONDCP will be eliminated -- there will be political 
pressure to keep it going.

But here's the problem: As most of you know, the Congressional 
authorization and mandates for the ONDCP demand that whoever is in 
that position lie to the people and work to make federal drug policy 
as harmful to our country as possible.

So, to put someone good in there, Obama would have to completely 
flout Congressional legislation, which is unlikely. While Bush would 
be less likely to have a problem with it if it matched his desires, 
Obama seems to be pushing for coalition building, and would be 
hesitant to give ammunition to opponents (he's probably also thinking 
hard about Clinton's aborted, rushed effort at health care reform 
when he had a full Democratic Congress).

So what can be done?

Perhaps we can work on Congress to modify the ONDCP authorization 
prior to 2010.

What if we all contact our Senators and Representatives and say:

The office of the Director of the White House Office of National Drug 
Control Policy has been a disaster for these past 8 years, and we 
can't afford more of the same. Our new President needs your help if 
he's going to find someone who can really do something good for our country.

* Change the ONDCP authorization so that the Drug Czar is no longer 
required or encouraged to lie to American citizens.

* Change the measurement criteria for federal drug policy from 
meaningless slight fluctuations in drug use, to the clear reduction 
of drug-related harm and drug-war-related harm. Please help President 
Obama appoint someone who can do some good for this country, by 
changing outdated and wholly inappropriate guidelines for the ONDCP 
Director position.

I don't know.  Could we do it? If such a movement became known to 
President Obama, would it make him more likely to consider a 
non-hardline drug warrior?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake