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Will Obama ignore the Drug War?

January 21, 2013, at 12:04 AM

Last summer, I wrote a short piece for GQ.com about the war on drugs.

According to ongoing discussions with Obama aides and associates, if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War.

Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn't expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.

So: Last week, with several days to go before the start of his second term and no mention of the Drug War as an immediate White House priority, a few writers who want to see big policy changes are using the silence to bemoan the apparent absence of that issue in the mindspace of the White House, and by implication, suggest that my "unsourced" piece, which was largely a review of a documentary, was wrong.

Now, we are less than a day into the president's second term, and golly, he still hasn't done or said anything about drugs. Instead, he's loading his plate with issues like immigration reform. To my equally "unsourced" critics, this means he intends to do nothing about sentencing, or policing, or drug-abuse treatment.

I stand by what I wrote. Read it again. Nothing vague or intentionally opaque. Several Obama advisers told me that he wants to tackle the drug problem at some point during his second term, and nothing has changed. I would be surprised, and chagrined, and apologetic to readers, if, at the end of the term, Obama has done nothing. He has four years ahead of him. I understand the frustration of drug reformers. They will have to wait. The politics are shifting on drugs, but they're still optically difficult for a black president. Timing matters. 

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