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 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 today: Morning-after Question: Who will be the Obama Administration’s drug policy appointees?. 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?