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April 2009
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Speculation and Blind Hope are not the same thing

In a comment over at Hit and Run, Pat Rogers takes me to task for leading the sheep who read my blog down the dangerous hope path when I should apparently be automatically condemning everything that the Obama administration does without investigation or analysis.

Second, for those blaming the folks who honestly thought that Obama would be different and so voted for him, it was not their fault. They were led by commentators in the reform community who idealistically rephrased and misrepresented everything that Obama actually said leading reformers by their hopes rather than informing them of the reality. And this continues today. I got the Holder quote from Pete Guither’s Drug WarRant where Pete and Eric Sterling dissect the Holder quote, deny what he actually said. And then proceed to fantasize about what they think he really said. “Sometimes, I’m clueless

Pat’s not the only one to imply that I’ve drunk the cool-aid, so I should probably make this clear…
Yes, I admit that I personally like President Obama. I think he’s intelligent and I like having a President with an I.Q. above 20. I think that he has the potential for improving our ability to work with the rest of the world (which is in our direct interest), and I think that he has the potential to be better (not in any way good, but less bad) on drug policy than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or John McCain (which still isn’t saying much). On the other hand, his record on civil liberties is atrocious and dangerous, and I’m in full agreement with Glenn Greenwald in this area. Others may have different opinions in all these areas and I welcome the diversity of opinion that shows up at this site in the comments section.
Those who think I give Barack a free pass clearly haven’t read this blog. My ‘bama-bashing bonafides go back almost five years, when I rather pointedly endorsed Kohn for U.S. Senate over Obama. I have regularly criticized him and I have also constantly told people that reform will not come from the President (any President), but from the people. However, I have no interest in the vapid emptiness of reflexive Obama hatred.
Back to the topic in question. A New York Times reporter claims that Holder said (and she did not quote him, but paraphrased) that he wants to look into prosecuting more lower quantity marijuana possession cases at the federal level.
Now, someone could read that and say “The feds want to bust regular marijuana users. Fuck Obama!” And that might feel good. But I don’t know what it actually accomplishes.
To me (and clearly to Eric Sterling), it didn’t pass the smell test.
It just doesn’t make sense.
I don’t mean that it doesn’t make sense in the sense that the drug war doesn’t make sense. Of course I don’t expect politicians to say things that make actual sense.
But I do expect them to make sense within the perverted and corrupt context of their own political self-interest. And you don’t have to be a theatre major (although I was) to be able to play-act the part of a prohibitionist pandering politician and try to imagine their self-interest.
It isn’t that it doesn’t make sense because it’s Obama’s AG. This wouldn’t have made sense if it was John Ashcroft or Janet Reno, or Michael Mukasey or Alberto Gonzales. It wouldn’t have made sense if it was John Walters or Karen Tandy. What political value do you get from actively pursuing an increase in federal prosecutions of marijuana possession cases?
Even more so, it doesn’t make sense now. Not when the larger discussions are about recommending that the feds increase the quantities of crack/cocaine needed to trigger federal prosecution. Not when Webb is calling for a re-evaluation of the entire drug war. Not when public opinion is exploding regarding marijuana legalization. Not when more states are poised to pass medical marijuana.
And finally, it doesn’t make sense when talking with the Attorney General of Mexico (which Holder apparently was). How does it help Mexico if the feds are spending their time prosecuting small-time marijuana possession cases in the U.S.?
Maybe there is a way that it makes political self-interest sense. I just don’t see it. That’s why I questioned it. That’s why I attempted to analyze it. Not because I wanted blindly to believe in hope, but because I have a blog and I was trying to understand something that wasn’t making sense to me.
If Holder attempts to expand federal prosecution to go after small-time marijuana possession cases, then I’ll be on the front lines condemning him.
But in the meantime, I’m going to continue trying to understand. And I’m sorry if some people don’t like that.
Update: Scott Morgan has some backstory that helps to explain Holder’s comment.

The officials who met with Holder today quizzed him on a variety of local concerns. For example, Barbara LaWall, the Pima County, Ariz., attorney, said that federal prosecutors in her state were refusing to take cases involving cross-border marijuana seizures of 500 pounds or less.
The result, she said, has been no convictions for hundreds of smugglers caught with about 490 pounds of marijuana. [Baltimore Sun]

So when Holder says he’s “exploring ways to lower the minimum amount required for the federal prosecution of possession cases,” he’s responding to complaints that major traffickers are currently being allowed to walk.

This makes sense. Not that I think Holder is right to be ratcheting up the drug war – of course not. Marijuana should be legal. Period. But what Eric Sterling and I were speculating appears to be, in fact, correct. The New York Times reporter is not clear about the definition of the word “possession” as used in law (and as is known to most marijuana users). None of use would refer to the federal prosecution of a smuggler bringing 490 pounds of marijuana into the country as a marijuana possession case.
It may be easier for our outrage to assume that Holder has decided to send the feds after people with an ounce, but I’d rather know what’s really going on. Thanks to Scott for tracking it down.

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