Updated: Aug 30
Remember 2008? So much seemed possible then. Farewell, the reformed drunkard frat boy Bush; hail, the hipster Obama, a man who could admit to having enjoyed getting high even as he recognized its dangers and grasped the ethical and political complexity of the global drug supply chain.
We Had Hope
Four years later, with plenty of wry head-shaking, Points grudgingly endorses Barack Obama for President of the United States, primarily (though not solely) because the alternatives would be so much worse.
Points readers are no doubt familiar with the Obama administration’s generally dismal record on drug issues: retention of Bush-appointee Michele Leonhart as the head of the DEA; continuation of the costly and pointless “war on drugs,” including its expansion to Africa and Honduas; and the bizarre reversal of his 2008 promise to give states discretion regarding medical marijuana. Since our survey of Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s record during the primaries, however, nothing has emerged to suggest to us that his presidency would be one whit less focused than Obama’s on criminalization and militarization. Romney has also made it pretty darn clear that his administration would be marked by a general unconcern for anyone either seeking help accessing needed drugs or hoping to extricate themselves from unwanted drugs– you know, those are the problems of the 47%, so screw them.
It’s Not a Single-Issue Presidency
As for Libertarian contender Gary Johnson, while we appreciate his commonsensical and relatively detailed understanding of drug policy, we believe that drug use and abuse cannot be understood– or addressed– outside the larger contexts of social inequality and geopolitical power. As much as we often admire our Libertarian friends’ stances on some single issues, their general refusal to admit the existence of structural inequality or to acknowledge that the state has a meaningful (if not un-problematic) role to play in managing complex modern societies means we cannot back their candidate.
In addition, we do find some bright spots to hold on to in the Obama administration’s record thus far. We’ve seen a slight uptick in dollars allocated for treatment and prevention in the last two years, even if the ratio of spending on those things relative to enforcement remains stuck at about 40%/60%, as Stop the Drug War and others point out. In addition, while the President can’t take full credit for the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduces the disparities in mandatory minimum sentences between crack and powder cocaine from 100-1 to 18-1, he did sign it. Then there’s the Affordable Care Act, which treats substance abuse disorders as health issues and articulates a right to treatment. It should increase funding for public health programs generally, including those that focus on substance abuse education and prevention, and should also increase access and possibly improve the quality of treatment.
Looking to a more specific example, we think it fair to say that the administration’s response to the panic over “pill mills” and the explosive increase in the abuse of prescription narcotics has also been heartening.
Kerlikowske: the Technocratic Sublime
While governors (like the one in Points’ home state) bloviate about shutting down the evil “pill pushers,” officials within the Obama administration have taken calm and technocratic steps: a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy for the FDA, so that agency can think about reducing the abuse-ability of key opioids, and a national database to track shady prescribing. (Our governor, interestingly, believes the latter to be “an invasion of privacy”). Meanwhile, Office of National Drug Control Policy chief Gil Kerlikowske has called for increased availability of naloxone (“Narcan”) as a way to combat accidental overdose, an affirmative step in the direction of harm-reduction. The Points editorial collective finds in these modest, perhaps uninspired approaches to the drug problem du jour at least something positive to hang on to as we head to election day.
So rest assured: you don’t have to hold your nose to vote for Obama. You just have to overcome the sinking feeling you have as you remember how you felt four years ago, and compare that to the reality of today.