Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, ASA's new ad, and the shifting politics of drug policy
As the 2016 presidential election gets underway, two of the most prominent would-be contenders spoke about drug policy yesterday.
Hillary Clinton was asked about medical and recreational marijuana laws at a CNN forum. Clinton left herself a lot of wiggle room in her answer, particularly with respect to Colorado and Washington, saying she "wait and see what the evidence is" (or, perhaps, wait and see who her opponents and and what the polling says in the states she needs to win? I kid, I kid.) Still, her comments on medical marijuana are notable. In 2008, Clinton took the "I don't think it's a good use of federal resources" approach to the issue, without saying anything that might sound like an endorsement of medical marijuana use. Yesterday, Clinton was much more expressly supportive of medical marijuana, commenting: "I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and who have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances." It's far from endorsing state medical marijuana laws or changing federal drug laws. But it is also a much stronger endorsement of medical marijuana than in her 2008 campaign (and, in my opinion, stronger than Obama's comments in 2008.)
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Rand Paul criticized the drug war generally yesterday, telling the Iowa State Republican Party Convention: "If you look at the War on Drugs, three out of four people in prison are black or brown. White kids are doing it too. In fact, if you look at all the surveys, white kids do it just as much as black and brown kids -- but the prisons are full of black and brown kids because they don’t get a good attorney, they live in poverty, it’s easier to arrest them than to go to the suburbs. There’s a lot of reasons." Rand Paul has said very similar things before, but the fact that he would include this in his remarks to an important primary state Republican audience says a lot about the new politics of drug policy.
Last but not least, Americans for Safe Access (disclosure: I serve on their board) released its latest ad targeting a medical marijuana-state Congressperson for voting against the recent medical marijuana budget amendment.
It's hard to believe how quickly the politics of drug policy are changing. It wasn't that long ago that former Virginia Senator Jim Webb (who has also been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate) was lamenting the fact that "few candidates or elected officials these days even dare to mention the mind-boggling inconsistencies and the long-term problems that are inherent in [our criminal justice system]” because they believe that “to be viewed as 'soft on crime' is one of the surest career-killers in American politics.” (The quote is from Webb's 2008 book A Time to Fight.)