Anyway, Greenwald reports some good news on the drug war:
The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday.This is good to hear, of course, but color me skeptical for now. This was one of Obama's campaign promises, but DEA raids on CA medical marijuana clinics have continued so far. In fact, the "as long as they conform to state laws" statement is a pernicious phrase - it means that should a marijuana clinic violate any little state regulation (and CA has a ton of 'em), the DEA can bring down its vengeance upon that clinic just like old days. It'll take a year or so of that not happening before I'm a believer.
Greenwald points out, though, that Obama's already taking a better approach to the "war on drugs" than his predecessor - he didn't pressure Mexico out of decriminalizing minor possession crimes. On the other hand, the Democratic Congress and Obama also included the awful Byrne Grant program in the stimulus bill, so we have a bit of a mixed bag here. And the "war on drugs" goes far beyond Obama, of course - even ending the worst of the war on drugs requires a sea change in the attitudes of police forces across the country (insert obligatory Agitator plug here). And if you expect Obama and the Democrats to do the right thing and completely remove federal drug laws, you're freakin' nuts.
One more thing: Greenwald notes the following about Obama's new drug policy:
Just as is true for Jim Webb's brave crusade to radically revise the nation's criminal justice and drug laws, there is little political gain -- and some political risk -- in adopting a policy that can be depicted as "soft on drugs" or even "pro-marijuana."I disagree that there's little political gain from softening the tone of the drug war. Anti-drug war sentiment has exploded in the past few years, as more and more people become affected by the heavy-handed tactics it employs. See the outrage over the Cheye Calvo incident for proof of that.
Most importantly, though, here's a Newsweek poll that says that 80% of Americans think marijuana should be legal for medical purposes. Aligning your policy to agree with 80% of Americans hardly carries a political risk. In fact, I think Obama could probably go further without incurring too much risk. That same poll suggests that only 21% of Americans think minor possession should be a prison-worthy offense. Abolishing federal prison sentences for drug possession would be another positive step that would carry next to no political risk.
And here's another thing. Check this chart on drug use from the head drug warriors at the ONDCP. The key stat: over half of people aged 18-35 have used illegal drugs. Almost a third of those aged 18-25 have gotten high in the past year. Remember, Obama won the White House with roughly 2-1 support from young voters. Not only have most young people used drugs (weird that I'm in the minority here), but most of the data I've seen suggest that young people are far more likely to support legalization of marijuana than older voters. Roughly half of voters under 45 support legalization, and while I haven't seen any numbers, my guess would be that support for legalization would float around 60% for the 18-29 set. Obama will need to keep his margin among young voters if he is to win in 2012. Adopting policies that are popular with young voters is hardly a bad strategy for him.
Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight makes much the same point I'm making, though he notes even higher numbers for marijuana usage among the aging-hippie generation.
(Weird statistical issue, though: according to Rasmussen, men actually favor legalization while women are heavily opposed. Why the gender gap? And does the gender gap exist among younger voters, or is it just prim-and-proper old Phyllis Schlafly types dragging the numbers with them? Marijuana polls need to have better demographic info...)
(Update 10/20: Gallup reports that the gender gap has closed. Also, a majority of Americans under 50 support legalizing marijuana outright. It's only the Get Off My Lawn Lobby holding us back here.)