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Sun Jun 29, 2014, 06:10 PM

Bill Clinton's Remarks Show How Political Opinion Has Changed [View all]

Last edited Sun Jun 29, 2014, 07:17 PM - Edit history (1)

In an interview with David Gregory this week:

"I think there's a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing," Clinton said. "I think there are a lot of unresolved questions, but I think we should leave it to the states. This really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy, because nobody really knows where this is going."

While Clinton stopped short of endorsing legalization at the federal level, he said he supports states' experimentation.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said Clinton's remarks reflect how legalization has progressed from a once politically untouchable issue to a mainstream cause.

"These comments from a skilled politician who knows how to stake out positions that resonate with the majority of voters show just how far the politics of this issue have shifted in favor of legalization," Angell said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "When Bill Clinton was president his administration tried to punish doctors just for discussing medical marijuana with their patients. Now he not only says that there's a lot of evidence to support medical marijuana, but he thinks states should be able to legalize marijuana outright without the feds standing in the way. Whereas this issue was once seen as a political third rail, there's no question it has now emerged into the mainstream. Polls show that the majority of voters support legalization, and today's politicians have no choice but to catch up or get left behind."

Nevertheless, Clinton's position appears to be to more conservative than that of the Obama administration's. Obama noted the racial disparity in arrests when he discussed this issue, and his administration has worked to change sentencing laws that discriminated against African Americans. Obama has spoken out directly to the public, through an interview, to state that he likens marijuana use to alcohol use. Obama's reaction to the legalization votes in CO and WA state is far, far more liberal than Clinton's reaction was when California's medical marijuana initiative passed.

During his time in office: Clinton Administration officials denounced the California law and a similar successful ballot initiative in Arizona as significant threats to the Government's efforts to limit the traffic in illegal drugs and to persuade younger Americans, in particular, not to use them.

...the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy led the Government in a public relations offensive.

This was after the bipartisan support for the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, that led to the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has spent millions of dollars on failed advertising campaigns and paid large salaries to bureaucrats to design ineffective propaganda aimed at the American people.

At that time, GLBT activist Dennis Peron was at the forefront of the medical marijuana movement. Peron lived through the HIV/AIDS crisis, when compassionate caregivers brought marijuana brownies to patients dying from AIDS-related cancer. By 1991, an overwhelming number of Californians wanted to make marijuana available to patients whose government had told them it didn't care about them, or, in fact, was openly hostile to them. This was the ten year legacy of the religious right.

The medical marijuana movement did not come from people who said... oh, yeah, let's use this as a way to bring legalization to the table. The medical marijuana movement began as a compassionate response to personal suffering, something the government of this nation ridiculed or ignored for a decade.

The AIDS crisis emerged in the 1980s, at the same time that the religious right gained ascendancy in the U.S. in the Republican Party. The Southern Strategy, birthed from racist reaction to the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, courted the white, often southern, religious voter. The media engaged in a propaganda campaign, with talk about a crack cocaine epidemic, that led to harsh penalties under Reagan and Bush aimed at minorities. Obama's Justice Department has worked to correct these racist laws through sentencing reform that treats all cocaine use equally. Back then...

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates stated that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot.”

Newt Gringrich proposed the death penalty for possession of marijuana over a certain amount.

The legacy of the Reagan/Bush Sr. years was property forfeiture, expanded police powers, militarization of the police, zero- tolerance policy, and an expanded prison system. And virulent racism and homophobia.

Reagan could have chosen to end the homophobic rhetoric that flowed from so many in his administration. Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan's surgeon general, has said that because of "intradepartmental politics" he was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the Reagan administration. The reason, he explained, was "because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs." [link:Reagan could have chosen to end the homophobic rhetoric that flowed from so many in his administration. Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan's surgeon general, has said that because of "intradepartmental politics" he was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the Reagan administration. The reason, he explained, was "because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs." http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Reagan-s-AIDS-Legacy-Silence-equals-death-2751030.php|(Reagan's) advisers, Koop said, "took the stand, 'They are only getting what they justly deserve.' "]

Reagan's attitude was to ignore the AIDS crisis and leave it to the states to devise strategies to deal with a national health crisis.

Recognizing the limitations of attempting reform through the legislature, Dennis Peron spearheaded a drive to legalize marijuana by bringing the issue directly to state voters in the 1996 election. Since the turn of the 20th century, California’s constitution has allowed citizens and organizations to put initiatives on statewide ballots for a yes-or-no vote. This referendum process is a legacy from the Progressive Era of the same time period designed to bolster direct democracy. To get his initiative on the November ballot, Peron needed to gather 433,000 signatures, a long and expensive undertaking that required significant organization and financial resources.

To mobilize this effort, Peron and his allies formed a political action group (PAC) known as Californians for Compassionate Use that took the responsibility of writing the initiative, which it titled “The Compassionate Use Act.” However, this measure also benefited from the substantial largess of a PAC known as California for Medical Rights, whose donors included George Soros, a billionaire financier, and Laurence Rockefeller, of Rockefeller family fame. With over $1 million, supporters of the measure gathered about 850,000 signatures, which Peron noted was one-fifth of the total number of votes that they needed for passage in November.

Two months after the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, the Clinton Administration took a coordinated hard line against the new law. In a press conference, Barry McCaffrey, the director of the Office of National Drug Control and Policy announced that: “Nothing has changed. Federal law is unaffected by these propositions.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala worried that California’s initiative reinforced the belief that marijuana was benign. Finally, Attorney General Janet Reno stated that she was reallocating federal enforcement resources to target California physicians who recommended marijuana to their patients, threatening to revoke their registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and prohibit them from participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Despite staunch federal opposition, subsequent court rulings blunted some of the threats, even though they did not provide much clarity on the everyday legality of medical marijuana use in California. For example, not long after the Clinton Administration’s strong rebuke of the new Californian law, a group of physicians, patients, and nonprofits filed a complaint (Conant v. seeking to block the federal government from punishing physicians that recommended marijuana to their patients. This complaint, known as Conant v. McCaffrey, was settled in September of 2000, when the US District Court for Northern California (a federal judiciary) issued a ruling that limited the ability of federal officials to punish physicians who prescribed medical marijuana under the guidelines of Proposition 215.


Clinton actively courted the GLBT vote, after Democrats saw that Republicans had cornered the religious bigot vote. The party reached out to the voting bloc the religious right actively hated... and continues to hate. Clinton's stance on AIDS was a huge improvement over Reagan and Bush Sr.

...but Clinton didn't recognize the interplay of the GLBT voter concerns at the time and medical marijuana.

When Clinton took office, the prison population had grown to 1.3 million. When he left office, the prison population had grown to 2 million. That number now stands at something like 2.4 million, part of a three-year decrease.

Initially people had hope for the Clinton administration because the appointment of Dr. Joyce Elders was a progressive move. Elders spoke about the need for sensible sex education strategies. She was also open to discussion of medical marijuana. Clinton immediately caved to conservative criticism and fired her.

He went after outspoken author Peter McWilliams. The author choked on his own vomit because he could not use marijuana to keep down his HIV and cancer medications after his arrest, or his mother would forfeit her house, her only asset.

...The Clinton years saw outlandishly cruel persecution of the ill. Among the thousands prosecuted for use of medical marijuana is Jimmy Montgomery, an Oklahoma paraplegic with no criminal record. In 1995, he received a life sentence for possession of less than one and a half ounces of marijuana-a sentence later commuted to life at home when it was discovered the state couldn't afford to treat his condition in prison. Another Oklahoman with no prior arrests, arthritis sufferer Will Foster, received 93 years in 1997 for a small medical-marijuana garden he had in his basement. (His term has since been reduced to 20 years.) And Tom Brown of Arkansas, busted
by the DEA in 1995, (served) a 10-year sentence for growing marijuana for medical use.

Welcome to the new world, Bill.

The American people who are not part of the republican party or right wing overwhelmingly support full legalization.

Public support for legalizing marijuana use is at an all-time high of 54%, though it is virtually unchanged from last year (52%). There is even more agreement that people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana should not serve time in jail.

About three-quarters of Americans (76%) say that if marijuana use is not legalized, those who are convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana should not serve jail time. Just 22% favor jail time for those convicted of minor marijuana possession. Democrats favor legalization by 63% and Independents by 58%.

It was in 2003 that John Ashcroft went after Tommy Chong in a sting set up by Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. attorney for the western district of PA, when she had a man go to California to buy bongs from Chong's son, Paris, then ask them to be shipped to Pennsylvania (where the shipping of such materials is prohibited). Btw, when Crisco™ John was being anointed for his job as AG, if he had wanted to be biblically literal, he probably should've used 6 lbs of marijuana in a quart of olive oil... Show trials, fake anointing. The Republican way. But Junior was putting more attention from his AG's office on other issues, for the most part. (That's another example of prosecutorial discretion, something Republicans want to impeach Obama for at this time.)

The Obama administration has made some missteps regarding marijuana law enforcement, according to activists in California, even after Holder stated medical marijuana raids would end, but the recent history of this issue should remind everyone of how far we've come.

We still have a long way to go, and we have a Republican-controlled House that is openly hostile to the will of the American people regarding this issue. The history of reactionary actions from the federal government remind us we cannot rely upon government officials to change policy unless we tell them we want change. Now.

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