Tuesday, September 9, 2008

OBAMA'S DRUG POLICY: MORE OF THE SAME

Paul Armentano, AlterNet - Voters who hoped that Barack Obama's call for "change" would include revamping U.S. drug policy are finding themselves with reasons to be skeptical.

First there was Obama's flip-flop-flip-flop on the subject of decriminalizing marijuana. Speaking at Northwestern University in January 2004, Obama called America's so-called "war on drugs" an "utter failure," and recommended, "We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws." (Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans endorsed the policy in a 2002 CNN/Time Magazine poll, and 12 state legislatures have already enacted versions of pot decriminalization -- replacing criminal penalties with fine-only sanctions.)

Nevertheless, Obama reversed his pro-pot position during a televised November 2007 MSNBC debate, raising his hand to indicate his opposition to the policy. Following the debate, a spokesman for Obama claimed that the candidate had misunderstood the moderator's question and declared that Obama had, in fact, "always" supported decriminalization. Hours later, however, when presented with video footage of Obama's 2004 statements, the campaign reversed course once again, stating to the Washington Times that the Democratic nominee opposed decriminalizing weed.

Since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama has voiced almost no criticism regarding America's punitive drug policies (despite his previous "utter failure" evaluation). As senator, Obama has championed popular anti-drug legislation like the "Combat Meth Act" and has lobbied in favor of increased funding for drug courts and U.S. drug interdiction efforts south of the border. . .

During his 35 years in Congress, political observers note that no Democrat has sponsored "more damaging drug war legislation" than Joe Biden. Biden led the charge in the Senate for passage of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which -- among its numerous notorious provisions -- re-established mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, expanded the use of federal asset forfeiture laws, and established the racially biased 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for the possession of crack versus powder cocaine. . .

Biden was also a key architect of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which enacted mandatory sentences for minor crack cocaine possession (five years in prison for possession of more than 5 grams), redefined low-level drug mules as drug "conspirators" (allowing these defendants to face the same penalties as drug kingpins), instituted random workplace drug testing programs for public employees, and established the multibillion-dollar anti-drug propaganda wing of the White House known as the Office of National Drug Control Policy . . .

More recently, Biden authored the so-called RAVE Act (aka the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act) -- clandestinely enacted into law in 2003 as a rider to federal "Amber Alert" legislation -- which permits federal law enforcement to prosecute business owners and event organizers who hold concerts where illicit drug use takes place. . . .

Biden is also a staunch supporter of U.S. anti-drug efforts abroad, such as Plan Columbia and Plan Afghanistan, and has even espoused for the use of mycoherbicides such as Fusarium oxysporum -- a genetically engineered fungal plant killer -- in illicit crop eradication efforts. . .

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