It’s just after 4/20 and times are changing! Love it or hate it, everyone has an opinion on weed legalization. What about the leaders of the country? Let’s explore the latest presidents and their approach to weed.
“When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and never tried it again.”
Bill Clinton heavily campaigned on ‘treatment over incarceration’ during his 1992 presidential campaign. He did admit to ‘experimenting’ with marijuana a couple of times in the U.K. - but supposedly didn’t inhale. Unsurprisingly, after Clinton’s first few months in the White House, he returned to the drug war strategies of his Republican predecessors.
The ‘Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act’ of 1994 was a giant [$30bn] crime-control bill. This act included many provisions. A "three strikes" mandatory life sentence was implemented for repeat offenders. $9.7bn was spent in funding for prisons. 100,000 new police officers were hired. Clinton dedicated $6.1bn to ‘prevention programmes’, but most of the funds went to disciplinary rather than rehabilitative or preventative measures.
According to the BBC; “Critics say the bill decimated communities of color and accelerated mass incarceration. Proponents say it contributed to the precipitous decline in violent crime in the US that began in the mid-1990s.”
When asked about Marijuana during a Rolling Stone interview in 2000, Clinton said;
“I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be…We really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment. Some people deliberately hurt other people and they out to be in jail because they can't be trusted on the streets…but a lot of people are in prison because they have drug problems or alcohol problems and too many of them are getting out, particularly out of state systems, without treatment, without education skills, without serious efforts at job placement.”
NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre responded;
"President Clinton's incredibly belated support for decriminalizing marijuana is a bittersweet moment for marijuana law reform supporters…During Clinton's eight-year term in office, we witnessed the largest number of marijuana arrests in our history -- over 4,175,357 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges between 1992-99.”
Before his presidency, private conversations of Bush were secretly taped by his father’s former aide (1998-2000). The future president discussed how he refused to answer questions about using marijuana. Bush worried that such an admission might affect his race to become President.
"I wouldn't answer the marijuana question" he said.
"You know why? Cause I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."
"You gotta understand, I want to be president, I want to lead," he continued.
"Do you want your little kid to say, 'Hey daddy, President Bush tried marijuana, I think I will'?"
Bush campaigned saying medical marijuana should be left up to the states. A position he quickly pivoted on after his election in 2000. The Bush administration ended up permitting multiple raids on both dispensaries and patients in legal states.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance;
“The era of George W. Bush witnessed the rapid escalation of the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement. By the end of Bush’s term, there were about 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year—mostly for nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors.”
George W. Bush arrived at the White House as the drug war was dwindling. Nevertheless, he chose to allocate more money to it.
Operation Pipe Dreams
‘Operation Pipe Dreams’ was code-name for the 2003 nationwide investigation of the illegal sale of drug paraphernalia. Out of 55 people involved in raids, only marijuana icon Tommy Chong would experience incarceration. Chong was charged with financing and promoting ‘Chong Glass/Nice Dreams’, a family company. The Government seemed to use jailing Chong as an example for cannabis users nationwide.
The final total of necessary revenue used to fund this federal disaster was a monstrous $12 million. The resources of 2,000 law enforcement officers were also used in this ridiculous show of government power.
John Walters held the position of ‘Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’ from 2001-2009. As the nation's "Drug Czar" Walters was responsible for the coordination of all aspects of federal anti-drug policies and spending. Focusing on marijuana during the Bush administration, a major campaign to promote student drug testing was launched. Rates of illicit drug use remained persistent and fatalities due to overdose grew rapidly.
“When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”
Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama was open about using marijuana (and cocaine) when he was young. While running in 2008, Obama casually admitted; “When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.” It was a rocky start, but in the end Obama was the most weed friendly president the USA ever had.
During Obama’s first term, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wreaked havoc on medical marijuana communities. California, Colorado and Montana were all targets. Despite his campaign promise to stop targeting state-legal pot clubs, Obama came down hard on weed.
In September of ‘12, the DEA tried to shut down 70+ medical marijuana dispensaries around Los Angeles. American’s for Safe Access outlined money spent on weed investigations, reported in 2013. Money was used to “investigate, raid, arrest, prosecute, and imprison hundreds of medical marijuana patients and their providers”;
- The Obama Administration has out spent the Bush Administration by 120 Million in just 4 ½ years
- Under the Obama Administration, DEA has spent 1-4% % of their budget on the medical cannabis war
A Softer Approach
With Obama’s second term, came a softening of the crackdown on medical marijuana. Restrictions were put on the Department of Justice, to keep them from continuing the attack on medical marijuana providers. Under Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, the Justice Department commonly declined to contest state marijuana laws. Legal marijuana was thus able to grow quicker in the US over recent years.
In December ’16, the DEA took another swipe at marijuana, just before Obama’s departure. An amendment was made to the classification of weed as a Schedule I drug. Now, ALL EXTRACTS, including cannabidiol (CBD), are listed up there with heroin. CBD is known to help thousands of epilepsy sufferers control seizures. Even so, it has been dubbed as a “drug with no medical use”.
Evolving Point of View
When asked by Rolling Stone about the war on drugs (Nov 2016), Obama said this on marijuana;
“I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it.”
Obama’s failure to reschedule marijuana to a lower schedule under the federal Controlled Substances Act was a big disappointment. People were hoping he would have done more than he did over two terms. Obama did however grant clemency to more nonviolent drug offenders than any other president in history.
"In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state."
Despite Donald Trump promising to leave legal pot alone during his campaign, he decided to appoint Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Describing marijuana as “only slightly less awful” than heroin, Sessions is known as a “drug war dinosaur”. One impossible-to-forget quote from Sessions was “good people don’t smoke marijuana”. Trump claims to have never smoked a cigarette or tried any drugs or alcohol.
The Justice Department seems ready to jump on board and reverse the Obama administration’s comparatively lax policy towards state-regulated marijuana. There doesn’t appear to be any clear plans surrounding marijuana, but Sean Spicer has mentioned that he expects states to be subject to “greater enforcement” of federal laws against marijuana use.
The Trump administration may not be able to stop the industry from developing, but they can make it much tougher to navigate. Plans to halt this growing green giant might include targeting key players with raids, property seizures or jail time. Both users and distributors risk being prosecuted or imprisoned, even if complying with state law.
There could potentially be a disturbing transformation within the rapidly growing legal and regulated marijuana industry – watch this space.