Mitt Romney Vows To Continue The Same Failed War On Drugs Obama Is Fighting

When it comes to issues like medical marijuana, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are reading from the same playbook.

I suppose it’s not a surprise, but Mitt Romney is making clear that he would be as much of an irrational drug warrior as his predecessors:

 I would not legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, and the reasons are straightforward: As I talk to people in my state and at the federal government level about marijuana and its role in society, they are convinced that the entry way into a drug culture for our young people is marijuana. Marijuana is the starter drug….The idea of medical marijuana is designed to get marijuana out in the public marketplace and ultimately lead to the legalization of marijuana overall. And in my view, that’s the wrong way to go. I know that other people have differing views. If you’d like to get someone who is in favor of marijuana, I know there are some on the Democratic side of the aisle who will be happy to get in your campaign. But I’m opposed to it, and if you elect me president, you’re not going to see legalized marijuana. I’m going to fight it tooth and nail.

Of course, there is little actual evidence for the idea that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” despite the fact that it is an argument that drug warriors have relied up on for decades now. Indeed, in terms of its actual effect on the body, marijuana is far less harmful than completely legal substances like alcohol and tobacco, not that I am suggesting that we should consider making either of those substances illegal of course.

What really stands out for me in these remarks those, is Romney’s total disdain for the idea of medical marijuana despite the numerous instances in which the substance has been shown to reduce the pain and suffering experienced by people with glaucoma, cancer, and other diseases. Indeed, in the case of cancer it has long been known that marijuana can reduce the nausea that chemotherapy patients often experience, nausea that often causes them to eat far less than they should which in turn deprives their body of much needed energy. If smoking a few marijuana cigarettes a day can help a cancer patient eat better and make their body stronger to fight the hell that they’re going through, then who is Mitt Romney to say no? Indeed, I’d suggest that there’s something rather cold and heartless in the attitude Romney expresses in this clip.

Of course, Mitt Romney isn’t the only candidate for President with this outdated, and in some cases factually flawed, view of the War On Drugs. Despite promises during his campaign that it would not do so, the Justice Department has continued, and in some cases escalated, the Federal crackdown on medical marijuana providers and dispensers in the State of California, where the sale of marijuana for medical use is completely legal. The situation in other states where medical marijuana has been legalized is roughly the same. Additionally, as Jacob Sullum noted in an October 2011 piece in Reason, despite having given the impression when he was campaigning that he would be more open to rationalization of the nation’s drug enforcement policies, Obama has turned out to be pretty much the same as every other President since the War On Drugs began in earnest under the Nixon Administration:

It is not hard to see how critics of the war on drugs got the impression that Barack Obama was sympathetic to their cause. Throughout his public life as an author, law professor, and politician, Obama has said and done things that suggested he was not a run-of-the-mill drug warrior. In his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, the future president talked candidly about his own youthful drug use, in sharp contrast with the Democrat who then occupied the White House and the Republican who succeeded him. As an Illinois state senator in 2001, he criticized excessively harsh drug sentences and sponsored a bill that allowed nonviolent, low-level offenders to enter court-supervised treatment instead of going to jail, saying “we can’t continue to incarcerate ourselves out of the drug crisis.”

As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama called the war on drugs “an utter failure” and advocated marijuana decriminalization. As a U.S. senator, he cosponsored legislation aimed at reducing the federal government’s draconian crack cocaine sentences. Unlike Bill Clinton, who notoriously admitted smoking pot while claiming he “didn’t inhale,” Sen. Obama forthrightly told a 2006 meeting of magazine editors, “When I was a kid, I inhaled, frequently. That was the point.”

Obama stood apart from hard-line prohibitionists even when he began running for president. In 2007 and 2008, he bemoaned America’s high incarceration rate, warned that the racially disproportionate impact of drug prohibition undermines legal equality, advocated a “public health” approach to drugs emphasizing treatment and training instead of prison, repeatedly indicated that he would take a more tolerant position regarding medical marijuana than George W. Bush, and criticized the Bush administration for twisting science to support policy—a tendency that is nowhere more blatant than in the government’s arbitrary distinctions among psychoactive substances.

The promise of a more enlightened, less repressive national drug policy generated considerable excitement among anti-prohibition activists.

As Sullum goes on to point out, though, there hasn’t been any substantive change in policy from the Obama White House or Justice Department and in many cases there has been an escalation of policies that were put in place by previous Presidents and continued notwithstanding the fact that they seemed to clearly be a failure. Obviously, the President is without authority to change the law on his own, but there are whole host of ways that the Executive Branch can influence how those laws are enforced. The President can direct his Attorney General to cease Federal raids on marijuana growers and dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal unless there is evidence that their products are crossing state lines. He can direct the Justice Department to exercise more discretion in prosecuting possession cases for people caught on Federal property where the amount seized is a small one. And, most importantly, he can use the bully pulpit to call for changes in the sentencing laws so that someone caught with some marijuana doesn’t end up getting his or her life ruined by being sent to a Federal Prison for an unduly long period of time. Heck, he could use his pardon power to pardon people sitting in prison on those types of charges. There’s been little to no action by the Obama Administration on this, and little sympathy for people who are suffering for whom medical marijuana could be, if not a lifesaver, at least something that could alleviate unnecessary suffering.

We’ve been fighting this War On Drugs for some 40 years now, and we’ve got next to nothing to show for it other than a huge prison population and countless lives ruined by the criminal justice system. In cases where we’re talking about addiction issues, which doesn’t apply to marijuana itself, we already know that addiction is quite often a medical or psychological issue, and yet we imprison people for essentially being sick rather than treating them. The War On Drugs has been an astounding failure, and yet we’ve got two major party Presidential candidates who would seemingly not only continue it, but escalate the fighting despite the lack of any evidence that doing more of what hasn’t worked for 40 years is going to make any difference.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that Mitt Romney has taken the position that he has on this issue, but in reality he’s really not advocating anything that the man he’s running against isn’t already doing. When will someone realize it’s not working, I wonder.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Crime, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    When will someone realize it’s not working, I wonder.

    When it’s no longer profitable!

  2. Fiona says:

    I’m not surprised by Romney’s hard line position, or his assertion, contra science, that marijuana is some kind of gateway drug. But I am disappointed by Obama’s relentless persecution of medical marijuana producers. Ron Paul was the only candidate ths go round with a sane approach to drug policy.

    Ending the unwind able War on Drugs would cut costs and enable law enforcement to focus on other, more pressing crimes. It would also help boost both state and federal revenues to legalize marijuana. Yet neither party is willing to be realistic (not that they’re realistic about a number of other things either).

  3. anjin-san says:

    Obama’s stance has been a great disappointment.

  4. Stonetools says:

    Again, Doug, what do you think the Republican response would be to Obama moving toward drug legalization? Would they reward that move w ith bipartisan cooperation? Or would they rail against him for ” surrendering” on the drug war and dooming future generations to the hell of drug addiction?
    The question answers itself. I think only a Republican president will ever be able to end the war on drugs. For now, Romney s happy to continue it, for political gain.

  5. mantis says:

    I wish Obama had taken a tougher position on the issue, but I also don’t see much point to it. The Congress will not legalize it on a federal level, and any attempt by the president to get them to do so would be a fool’s errand.

    The states have to lead the way on this one, and they are doing so. We will reach critical mass at some point in the not too distant future.

  6. @Stonetools:

    Again, Doug, what do you think the Republican response would be to Obama moving toward drug legalization?

    If Obama is going to let his policies be determined by what the Republicans want, why not just vote for Romney and get it over with?

  7. grumpy realist says:

    If I ever run for POTUS one of the planks of my platform will be decriminalization of anything you can grow in your back yard. Maybe we can encourage bootleg bioengineering….

  8. David M says:

    If it’s possible to be worse than Bush/Obama on this front, I think it’s safe to say Romney will find a way.

  9. CB says:

    The idea of medical marijuana is designed to get marijuana out in the public marketplace and ultimately lead to the legalization of marijuana overall.

    Yeah or maybe the idea is that its a cheap and safe way to alleviate the pain and suffering of thousands with crippling illnesses, you arrogant jackass.

    Seriously though, the concept of marijuana as gateway drug is a) mistaking correlation for causation and b) an easy way for drug warriors to excuse even the most egregious excesses of the drug war (think of the children!).

    These are stupid policies that need to end, whether theres a D or an R after the name.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Finally, here, we have an actual case of “both sides do it.”

    Both sides are idiots and both sides are pursuing terribly destructive policies.

    The only difference is that there is at least a chance that Mr. Obama will evolve as he evolved on gay marriage once the polls evolved him. Mr. Romney has zero chance of evolving.

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    Seriously though, the concept of marijuana as gateway drug is a) mistaking correlation for causation and b) an easy way for drug warriors to excuse even the most egregious excesses of the drug war (think of the children!).

    The only reason that marijuana is a “gateway drug” is that it’s illegal. That is, since it’s illegal, you often have to buy it from drug dealers, and while some deal in marijuana only, others are only to happy to sell you other drugs, thereby exposing you to them in a way you wouldn’t if you could instead buy your marijuana from the local corner bar or pharmacy.

    Why, for the same reason, aren’t alcohol and cigarettes gateway drugs? Because you don’t have to buy them from drug dealers. (Well, actually, you do, but from drug dealers we regard as legal and upstanding citizens).

  12. C. Clavin says:

    The laws here in Connecticut have loosened up.
    Up to a half ounce is a just a fine…no jail time, no criminal record.
    Now where did I put that scale????

  13. mantis says:

    It’s looking like Colorado will go fully legal in November on a ballot initiative. Right now polling is 47% for, 38% against.

  14. PJ says:

    @Fiona:

    Ron Paul was the only candidate ths go round with a sane approach to drug policy.

    You’re forgetting Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee.
    But then, you’re not the only one.

    Obviously, Gary Johnson is the candidate who Republicans who are fiscally conservative, socially liberal, want a limited government, and want to end the drug war should vote for.

    Especially if they are living in a swing state.

  15. george says:

    Once again Romney shows how seriously he takes his claims of being for a small government.

  16. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Memo to Mitt Romney: It’s all about the dummy, economy. P.S. – Medical marijuana is a no brainer. It definitely should be legalized. At the minimum the Feds need not be involved. Sincerely, Your Reality Check.

  17. Scott F. says:

    @Stonetools:

    I think only a Republican president will ever be able to end the war on drugs.

    Or a second term President without no re-election to be concerned about.

  18. Bob says:

    @CB: Having professional acquaintances that have been smoking pot for 30 – 40 years, I have observed that the only thing marijuana gateways into is a bag of Doritos.

  19. Scott F. says:

    @PJ:

    When Republicans speak of limited government, they are discussing a completely different animal then when libertarians speak of limited government. Libertarians need to understand this.

  20. Fiona says:

    @PJ:
    You’re right. I did forget Johnson; he got booted out of the debates early on.

    With regard to Obama, I can understand the futility of trying to legalize it, but don’t see what harm would come to him if he failed to bring the hammer down on medical marijuana producers and sellers. Very disappointing.

  21. walt moffett says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    While the current War on Drugs can be profitable, chasing tax evaders and other violators of the Marijuana Reform Act of 2022 can also be profitable.

  22. James in LA says:

    When WA, OR and NV vote for decriminalization this Fall, who is more likely to evolve on the issue?

  23. bill says:

    it’s political poison to not join the war on drugs. i think drugs should be legal- here’s why;
    – losers who use the hard stuff should be free to od and die, free healthcare should be denied to them and a “dnr” policy in effect for them as well.
    -weed isn’t much of a big deal, you can’t deny it’s somewhat harmful at an early age but not so much later in life. it shouldn’t be regulated either as that will start another war on drugs…
    -employers can still require “drug free” work places as that will deter responsible people from imbibing. they could make exceptions for weed if they want, no bfd.
    -the cottage industry of cops and the huge bureaucracy behind them will need to find employment elsewhere, shouldn’t be a huge deal though.
    -i can walk into any pharmacy and buy over the counter drugs that will do wonderful things for me, if i choose not to.
    -even bill buckley said it was a lost war long ago, prohibition just doesn’t work.
    – we’d have more migrant workers willing to pick fruit and vegetables too, the cartels pay way better.
    like his will ever happen though, maybe the “weed” part will in due time.

  24. LC says:

    This is the proverbial “Nixon goes to China” issue. Romney could easily support legalization without losing a single vote – and maybe picking up a few.

    Unfortunately, his stance on the subject is, I suspect, not simply a typically Conservative poistion. He is a Mormon. He doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee. Marijuana legalization would be a step too far for him as a person, let alone as a politician.

    Obama is the major disappointment because his attacks on medical marijuana (especially in states where it is legal), and his continuation of the drug war, is purely (IMO) a political decision. He will lose votes he can’t afford to lose if he moves left on the issue and will generate Everests of negative media attacks orchestrated by the Right.

    Funny, isn’t it, how the Conservative belief in small government, limited government, personal liberties stops short when it comes to drugs and, of course, the uteri of women.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We’ve been fighting this War On Drugs for some 40 years now, and we’ve got next to nothing to show for it other than a huge prison population and countless lives ruined by the criminal justice system. In cases where we’re talking about addiction issues, which doesn’t apply to marijuana itself, we already know that addiction is quite often a medical or psychological issue, and yet we imprison people for essentially being sick rather than treating them. The War On Drugs has been an astounding failure, and yet we’ve got two major politicalparty Presidential candidates who would seemingly not only continue it, but escalate the fighting despite the lack of any evidence that doing more of what hasn’t worked for 40 years is going to make any difference.

    FTFY Doug, can’t disagree.

  26. al-Ameda says:

    I’m with you on this one, Doug.

    We just can’t find the nerve to pull the plug on the war on drugs. Frankly, it’s going to take a law and order Republican to do it. We’ve wasted a prodigious amount money as well as lives in this.

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If Obama is going to let his policies be determined by what the Republicans want, why not just vote for Romney and get it over with?

    Heh.

    In truth, it is called, “Picking your battles.” I suspect the GOPs position has zero to do with Obama’s position, as the Dems are quite schizo on it. Hard to say whether he believes the bs he is enforcing or not, but actions DO speak louder than words

  28. @CB: Mittens has to keep his corporate sponsors happy so they can keep selling synthetic THC to cancer patients.

  29. bill says:

    this just in! mainly due to “states rights” i’m sure- but it’s a start.