Barack Obama on Drugs

Democratic nomine for President; Junior Senator (IL)

Look at needle exchange; and expand treatment

Q: D.C. has the highest infection rate. How can we address that?

A: I think it is important that we are targeting HIV/AIDS resources into the communities where we’re seeing the highest growth rates. That means education and prevention, particularly with young people. It means that we have to look at drastic measure, potentially like needle exchange in order to insure that drug users are not transmitting the disease to each other. And we’ve got to expand on treatment programs. And all of that is going to cost some money and some time. But again, if we think about the enormous costs of homelessness, or the enormous cost of HIV/AIDS, over the long term, as people visit emergency rooms, etc. The more we are investing in that ounce of prevention the better off we’re going to be.

Source: 2008 Politico pre-Potomac Primary interview Feb 11, 2008

Fight to rid our communities of meth

Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 32-33 Feb 2, 2008

Expand drug courts; help prisoners with substance abuse

Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 49 Feb 2, 2008

2001: questions harsh penalties for drug dealing

In 2001, Obama questioned the harsh penalties for drug dealing, noting that selling 15 tablets of Ecstasy was the same class of felony as raping a woman at knifepoint. In 2002, Obama sponsored an unsuccessful measure to create an employment grant program for edx-criminals, who often return to a life of crime because no one will hire them.
Source: The Improbable Quest, by John K. Wilson, p.146-147 Oct 30, 2007

Not first candidate to use drugs, but first honest about it

One issue that exposed the disconnect between Obama’s appeal & the conventional wisdom of an older generation is his drug use. The Washington Post focused on his use of drugs as a teen that he reveals in his book, Dreams from My Father: “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack though.”

Obama’s honesty in addressing the issue reflects a generational change in politics. Most voters no longer care about youthful drug use; they’re worried about having an honest person in the White House. In 1992, Bill Clinton answered a question about his drug use by saying he had tried marijuana, but “didn’t inhale.” When asked, “Did you inhale?” Obama replied, “That was the point.” Obama was making fun of old-style politician who thought they could fool the voters.

Obama is almost certainly isn’t the first person to use cocaine and then run for president. But he is the first presidential candidate honest enough to talk about the troubles of his youth.

Source: The Improbable Quest, by John K. Wilson, p. 12-13 Oct 30, 2007

Do not lower drinking age from 21 to 18

Q: Would you as president remove the requirement that a state have a legal drinking age of 21 in order to receive federal highway funds, thereby returning the drinking age back to the states?

BIDEN: Absolutely no, I would not. The cost of alcoholism in America, the cost of accidents that flow from drunkenness, are astronomical.

DODD: No, I agree with Joe on this. The problems associated with alcohol are significant in our country. The evidence is overwhelming..

RICHARDSON: No, I wouldn’t lower it. I think you need a dual approach: strong law enforcement, but you also have to have substance abuse treatment.

GRAVEL: I think we should lower it. Anybody that can go fight and die for this country should be able to drink.

KUCINICH: Of course they should be able to drink at age 18, and they should be able to vote at age 16.

Q: No on 18?


EDWARDS: What was the question?

Q: Lower the drinking age to 18?

EDWARDS: I would not.

Source: [Xref Biden] 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth Sep 6, 2007

Experimented with cocaine but turned down heroin

The teenage years mark a period of rebellion for males, and Obama’s racial turmoil only exacerbated those natural feelings. He was always a solid B student, but by his senior year, he was slacking off in his schoolwork in favor of basketball, beach time parties. He also, as he described it later, “dabbled in drugs and alcohol.” He would buy a six-pack of Heineken after school and polish off the bottles while shooting baskets. He also smoked marijuana and experimented with snorting cocaine but demurred from heroin when he said a drug supplier seemed far too eager to have him experience it. Later, Obama noted that white kids, Hawaiian kids and wealthy kids also turn to drugs to soothe whatever causes them pain.

His grandmother recalled that she and he husband discussed Barry’s declining grades and grew concerned about his possible drug use and overall lack of direction. Obama, however, questioned his elderly grandmother’s memory, [claiming it] was a very transitory period in his life.

Source: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, p. 45-46 Aug 14, 2007

A “secret smoker”, especially around reporters

There was a reason besides personal privacy why Obama had been so resistant to my presence [while preparing this book]: Obama was a secret smoker--and he did not want to light up in front of a reporter. Some politicians are comfortable smoking in front of the media or in public, while others believe the habit will reflect poorly on their public image. Obama was in the latter group, almost to an obsessive degree.

The public portrait of Obama now bordered on saintly, especially for a politician. Learning that he smoked might tarnish this picture. So Obama went to great lengths to conceal the habit.

It really came as no surprise to me that Obama smoked. His wife mentioned in our interview that Obama had a cigarette dangling from his lips on their first lunch together. He had written in Dreams from My Father about smoking in the college dorms. But most telling, like most smokers, he occasionally smelled of tobacco.

Source: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, p.258&272-273 Aug 14, 2007

Smokes cigarettes now; smoked some pot in high school

[Some pundits question how well Obama’s] brand of popularity will hold up when voters learn more about him, such as the fact that he’s a smoker. That meant cigarettes, -- Obama, trying to quit, is down to puffing three a day. But when Jay Leno asked him in Dec. 2006 if he smoked, he was talking not about Marlboros but about pot. “Not recently--that was in high school,” Obama responded. “Did you inhale?” Leno said, alluding to bill Clinton’s famous dodge. “That was the point,” Obama said.
Source: Hopes and Dreams, by Steve Dougherty, p. 29-32 Feb 15, 2007

Admitted marijuana use in high school & college

Long before he was in the national media spotlight, Barack Obama had this to say about himself: “Junkie. Pothead. That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man... I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind.” Obama’s revelations were not an issue during his Senate campaign two years ago. But now his open narrative of early, bad choices, including drug use starting in high school and ending in college, are sure to receive new scrutiny.
Source: Lois Romano, Washington Post, p. A1 Jan 3, 2007

Deal with street-level drug dealing as minimum-wage affair

We need to tackle the nexus of unemployment and crime in the inner city. The conventional wisdom is that most unemployed inner-city men could find jobs if they really wanted to work; that they inevitably prefer drug dealing, with its attendant risks but potential profits, to the low-paying jobs that their lack of skill warrants. In fact, economists who’ve studied the issue--and the young men whose fates are at stake--will tell you that the costs and benefits of the street life don’t match the popular mythology: At the bottom or even the middle ranks of the industry, drug dealing is a minimum-wage affair. For many inner-city men, what prevents gainful employment is not simply the absence of motivation to get off the streets but the absence of a job history or any marketable skills--and, increasingly, the stigma of a prison record.

We can assume that with lawful work available for young men now in the drug trade, crime in any community would drop.

Source: The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, p.257-259 Oct 1, 2006

Understand why youngsters want to use drugs

Junkie. That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. Except the highs hadn’t been about me trying to prove what a down brother I was. Not by then, anyway. I got high for just the opposite effect, something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory. I had discovered that it didn’t make any difference whether you smoked reefer in the white classmate’s sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you’d met down at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids who had dropped out of school and now spent most of their time looking for an excuse to brawl. You might just be bored, or alone. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection. And if the high didn’t solve whatever it was that was getting you down, it could at least help you laugh at the world’s ongoing folly and see through all the hypocrisy and bullshit and cheap moralism.
Source: Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama, p. 87 Aug 1, 1996

End harsher sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine.

Obama co-sponsored ending harsher sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine

A bill to target cocaine kingpins and address sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Sponsor's introductory remarks: Sen. Biden: My bill will eliminate the current 100-to-1 disparity [between sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine] by increasing the 5-year mandatory minimum threshold quantity for crack cocaine to 500 grams, from 5 grams, and the 10-year threshold quantity to 5,000 grams, from 50 grams, while maintaining the current statutory mandatory minimum threshold quantities for powder cocaine. It will also eliminate the current 5-year mandatory minimum penalty for simple possession of crack cocaine, the only mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of a drug by a first time offender.

Drug use is a serious problem, and I have long supported strong antidrug legislation. But in addition to being tough, our drug laws should be rational and fair. My bill achieves the right balance. We have talked about the need to address this cocaine sentencing disparity for long enough. It is time to act.

Congressional Summary:

Related bills: H.R.79, H.R.460, H.R.4545, S.1383, S.1685.
Source: Drug Sentencing Reform & Kingpin Trafficking Act (S.1711) 07-S1711 on Jun 27, 2007

Require chemical resellers to certify against meth use.

Obama co-sponsored requiring chemical resellers to certify against meth use

Sen. FEINSTEIN: This act is designed to address problems that the Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, has identified in the implementation of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. The bill that I introduce today would:

The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act that we passed last year has been a resounding success. The number of methamphetamine labs in the United States has declined dramatically now that the ingredients used to make methamphetamine are harder to get. Fewer meth labs means more than just less illegal drug production. In 2003, 3,663 children were reported exposed to toxic meth labs nationwide--but so far this year, the number of exposed children is only 319.

This is a common-sense bill, designed to strengthen the implementation of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act. This bill would create incentives to ensure that the self-certification process of the law is made both effective and enforceable. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

Source: Combat Methamphetamine Enhancement Act (S.2071) 2007-S2071 on Sep 19, 2007

Other candidates on Drugs: Barack Obama on other issues:
GOP: Sen.John McCain
GOP V.P.: Gov.Sarah Palin
Democrat: Sen.Barack Obama
Dem.V.P.: Sen.Joe Biden

Third Parties:
Constitution: Chuck Baldwin
Libertarian: Rep.Bob Barr
Constitution: Amb.Alan Keyes
Liberation: Gloria La Riva
Green: Rep.Cynthia McKinney
Socialist: Brian Moore
Independent: Ralph Nader
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Page last updated: Dec 07, 2008