Marijuana And The Death Penalty: Sanders and Clinton Engage In More Significant Off Stage Debate Than The Republicans In Colorado

Bernie Sanders Marijuana

The third Republican debate was widely considered to be a train wreck. It was probably the worst for Jeb Bush as it largely turned into an excuse for pundits to write off his chances to win the Republican nomination. Failing to inspire enthusiastic support is a greater political sin than to fail to show up to one’s job in the Senate (a failing common to candidates running for the presidential nomination of either party). Meanwhile the Democratic candidates have spent the last couple of days disagreeing over issues, including marijuana and the death penalty.

While the Democrats could not actually debate, as this would violate Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s rules, they had a far more interesting disagreement on the issues. Marijuana barely came up at the Republican debate in Colorado, where recreational use has been legalized, but Bernie Sanders did make major news on the issue. He took a position quite different from the pro-drug war views of Hillary Clinton, and far more significant than Martin O’Malley’s position:

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his support Wednesday for removing marijuana from a list of the most dangerous drugs outlawed by the federal government — a move that would free states to legalize it without impediments from Washington…

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use,” Sanders told a live audience of more than 1,700 students, which erupted with applause. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

No other presidential candidate has called for marijuana to be completely removed from the schedule of controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Long-shot Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has said that he would put marijuana on Schedule 2, a less-strict designation. The party’s front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has repeatedly said she wants to see how legalization experiments in Colorado, Washington and other states play out before committing to any changes at the federal level…

His plan would also allow marijuana businesses currently operating in states that have legalized it to use banking services and apply for tax deductions that are currently unavailable to them under federal law.

Sanders previously indicated his interest in legalization of marijuana when appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Sanders’ proposal would put an end to raids by the federal government on medical marijuana facilities where medical marijuana is legal and block the current impediments to research on medical uses of marijuana. Wonkblog also points out that this would restore marijuana to the status which was intended before Richard Nixon interfered. (With Hillary Clinton taking the more Nixonian position here, it is yet another in a long list of similarities between Clinton and Nixon which seem to keep coming up).

Marijuana was originally placed on Schedule 1 as a temporary measure in 1970 while a government-convened panel of experts figured out how to handle it from a legal standpoint. Two years later, the panel recommended complete decriminalization of small amounts of the drug: “the Commission recommends … [that the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.”

But President Richard Nixon ignored his own commission’s findings and kept marijuana on Schedule 1, saying “we need, and I use the word ‘all out war,’ on all fronts” when it came to weed.

Sanders and Clinton also disagreed on the death penalty this week:

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stood by his long-standing opposition to the death penalty on Thursday, calling for an end to the policy during a Senate speech on criminal justice.

“When we talk about criminal justice reform, I believe it is time for the United States of America to join almost every other Western, industrialized country on Earth in saying no to the death penalty,” Sanders said during his speech on the Senate floor. “We are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country, seemingly every week. And that is precisely why we should abolish the death penalty. At a time of rampant violence and murder, the state should not be part of that process.”

Sanders’ remarks come one day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also running for president, came out against ending capital punishment, adding that she believes the use of the death penalty should be “very limited and rare.”

…The Vermont senator has publicly opposed the death penalty for his entire tenure in Congress. In 1991, his first year as a member of the House of Representatives, Sanders spoke out against the policy during debate on the Violent Crime Prevention Act of 1991, which sought to expand the death penalty.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another primary rival of Clinton and Sanders, is also opposed to the death penalty. In 2013, he signed a bill abolishing the practice in Maryland.

According to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year, 61 percent of Americans are in favor of the death penalty in murder convictions, while 37 percent are not.

Of course. Hillary Clinton remains guided by the polls as opposed to principle. In calling for the death penalty to be rare, it is interesting that she uses the same word she uses for what should come of abortion, a position which has long frustrated many abortion rights activists for the manner in which it stigmatizes women who choose to have an abortion, and it provides cover for the religious right’s battle to restrict access to abortion.

The Democrats were disagreeing over real issues, while the Republicans were engaged in distortions of the facts and bashing of the mainstream media. Among the Republican lies debunked, PolitiFact classified Chris Christie’s claim that Bernie Sanders is “going to raise your taxes to 90 percent” as “pants on fire.”

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Hillary Clinton Resorts To Dirty Politics & Bernie Sanders Responds By Showing Differences On The Issues

Sanders Jefferson Jackson

Hillary Clinton has had a very good month, especially with Joe Biden deciding not to run, which is starting to solidify her support among the Democratic mainstream. Therefore it is puzzling that she would decide to take the low road in the campaign, playing the sex card much like she played the race card against Barack Obama eight years ago. She not only continued her campaign strategy of distorting Sanders’ record on gun control, but twisted a statement to falsely accuse him of sexism. While some of  Clinton’s supporters have frequently accused anyone who disagrees with Clinton’s views, or objects to her low ethical standards, of sexism, as far as I am aware this is the first time Hillary Clinton has stooped this low during this campaign.

During the recent Democratic debate, Sanders repeated a line he frequently uses in  his stump speech, criticizing the shouting from both sides on the issue. Democrats who are seen as opposing the private ownership of guns under any circumstance do not have the credibility which Sanders has, having supported both sensible gun control and the rights of hunters to own guns, to bridge this issue. When talking about shouting on the issue, Sanders is talking about all parties. Clinton twisted this in her response: “I’m not shouting. It’s just that when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

Clinton is foolish to play dirty in the campaign when she has the lead as she already faced a challenge, should she go on to win the nomination, to get those independents who support Sanders but do not normally vote Democratic to turn out to vote for her in the general election. This will only make it harder. It is also foolish for Clinton to dwell on a single issue to make a bogus case of being more consistently liberal than Sanders when she has spent much of her career triangulating and undermining liberal principles.

Bernie Sanders responded to Clinton by bringing up just a small number of the many issues where Clinton has not been consistently liberal at the Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner. While he has mentioned some of these in the past, he was much more forceful in showing the differences between himself and Clinton, as I suggested he should do after the first debate. Sanders raised Clinton’s inconsistent views on trade, the Keystone XL Pipeline, campaign finance reform, the Iraq war, and gay rights. NBC News reported:

Without mentioning her by name, Sanders fired off a series of back-to-back jabs clearly aimed at the weakest parts of Clinton’s resume as he portrayed himself as the true progressive in the race who “will govern based on principle not poll numbers.”

His section of supporters roared at this key party event, which has a history of dislodging frontrunners — including Clinton in 2008 — in the state that holds the nation’s first nominating contest.

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Clinton recently opposed, Sanders said he was there first.

“I did not support it yesterday. I do not support it today. And I will not support it tomorrow,” he said. “It is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements.”

Clinton once called the TPP the “gold standard” of trade deals as she helped negotiate it as President Obama’s secretary of state.

On the Keystone XL pipeline, which Clinton seemed to favor as secretary of state but recently opposed, Sanders said he was there first too.

“If you agree with me about the urgent need to address the issue of climate change, then you would know immediately what to do about the Keystone pipeline. Honestly, it wasn’t that complicated,” he said. “To me, that was a no-brainer and that is why I have opposed the Keystone Pipeline from the beginning.”

On the Iraq War vote, where Clinton now says her “yes” vote was a mistake, Sanders said he was there first as well. “Let me tell you that I listened to what Bush had to say, to what Cheney had to say, to what Rumsfeld had to say. I didn’t believe them and I voted no,” he said.

And on the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law signed by Bill Clinton that banned the federal government from recognizing gay marriages — which Hillary Clinton now opposes — Sanders said he was there first once again.

“Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse. Let us be clear. That’s just not true,” he said. “There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters. Not everybody held that position in 1996.”

Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Friday that her husband supported DOMA as a “defensive action,” since something worse would have been passed in its stead.

On every issue, Sanders said he faced a “fork in the road.”

“I am proud to tell you when I came to that fork in the road I took the right road even though it was not the popular road at the time,” he said.

And one of his biggest applause lines, ostensibly on campaign finance, was also a veiled shot at Clinton. “I am the only Democratic candidate for president who does not have a Super PAC and we are going to prove them wrong,” he said. Clinton has two super PACs.

Sanders sought to position himself as the rightful heir to Obama, who stunned observers at this very event in 2007 by delivering an inspiring speech that drew clear contrasts with Clinton.

“Eight years ago the experts talked about how another Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, couldn’t win. How he was unelectable. Well Iowa, I think we’re going to prove the pundits wrong again. I believe we will make history,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In order to prove the pundits wrong, make history, and to win, Bernie Sanders will need to continue to draw a contrast between himself and Hillary Clinton on the issues, showing Democratic voters that he, and not Clinton, better represents Democratic values. Of course the Democratic Party is a big tent and Clinton’s generally center-right positions will appeal to many of those who vote in Democratic primaries. To win Sanders will also need to turn the independent support he is achieving into primary votes.

Many of  his supporters are young voters who do not traditionally turn out in hight numbers. Sanders just might change this with positions which attract the young, including  his more left-libertarian views on social/cultural issues, including legalization of marijuana, along with his proposal to make public college education free. His support for expanding Social Security also represents a policy difference with Hillary Clinton which could help Sanders make inroads at the other end of the age range.

Sanders repeated his criticism of Clinton on CNN Sunday Morning, this time mentioning Clinton by name:

“I have consistently been a critic of what is going on on Wall Street, the greed, the recklessness, the illegal behavior. I helped lead the effort to — against the deregulation of Wall Street. I believe that we should bring back Glass-Steagall legislation so that you do not have the absurd situation of commercial banks and investment banks and large insurance companies being together,” Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“You do not have six financial institutions having assets equivalent to 60 percent of the GDP,” he continued. “With all the economic and political power that these banks have, I think you’ve got to break them up. That has always — that has been my view for a very, very long time. That is not Hillary Clinton’s view.”

ABC News began their report of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner which an example which seems to represent the philosophical difference between Clinton and Sanders supporters:

On one half of the space, the Clinton fans looked organized and polished. They wore matching, glow-in-the-dark, blue t-shirts that read, “I’m fighting for her.” They held battery-operated foam lights that shone brightly when the lights dimmed and doubled as noise-makers.

Sanders’ fans had glow sticks, too, the kind that glow after being snapped. While many of his fans wore Bernie 2016 t-shirts, they were mismatched and different colors. His section also included several homemade signs.

I think this says a lot about the types of people who support Sanders as opposed to Clinton. Most importantly, Democratic voters need to keep in mind that, to paraphrase Sanders, when there has been a fork in the road on policy, throughout their careers Sanders has taken the right fork while Clinton has made the wrong decision. We need a president who makes the right choices at the time, not one who will admit her mistakes and change her views years down the road.

Update: Video posted here.

Update II: Press & Bloggers Show Sanders Was Right In Accusing Clinton Of Practicing Revisionist History On DOMA

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The Democratic Debate: Clinton Wins On Style And Gets Support Of Pundits; Sanders Wins On The Issues And Wins The Focus Groups

CNN Democratic Debate

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders each entered the first Democratic debate with different goals, and both accomplished them. Clinton was more polished, with both more debating experience, and having prepared in a conventional manner. She was also better at evading questions she did not want to answer. She won the chattering class. The same journalists who have underestimated Sanders from the start, and have not taken his campaign seriously, say that Clinton won.

Sanders won on the issues, and did what he intended to enhance his campaign. Sanders won the focus groups. He gained 35,163 followers on Twitter, compared to 13,252 for Clinton. Although unscientific and of questionable meaning, he won the online polls by large margins. Alternet summarized:

Bernie Sanders by all objective measures won the debate. Hands down. I don’t say this as a personal analysis of the debate – the very idea of “winning” a debate is silly to me. I say this because based on the only objective metrics we have, online polls and focus groups, he did win.  And it’s not even close.

Sanders won the CNN focus group, the Fusion focus group, and the Fox News focus group – in the latter, he even converted several Hillary supporters. He won the Slate online poll, the CNN/Time online poll, 9News ColoradoThe Street online poll, Fox5 poll, the conservative Drudge online poll and the liberal Daily Kos online poll. There wasn’t, to this writer’s knowledge, a poll he didn’t win by at least an 18 point margin.  But you wouldn’t know this from reading the establishment press. The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, Politico, Slate, New York Magazine, and Vox all of which unanimously say Hillary Clinton cleaned house.

Sanders went into the debate with an unconventional preparation as I discussed last week. Sanders did not go into the debate memorizing zingers or planning to try to take down Hillary Clinton. He used the debate to get access to potential voters who were not aware of him, and succeeded. This is also seen in the number of Google searches for him. To some degree this could be the novelty factor, from people who already knew about Clinton but not Sanders, but the large number of people expressing interest is bound to translate into some new supporters.

While Clinton did receive far more favorable reviews from the mainstream media, there are exceptions. Philip Bump at The Washington Post did point out how Sanders was the candidate breaking through. The Chicago Tribune considered Sanders to be the winner. Russell Berman at The Atlantic  argued that Sanders might receive a bigger bounce from the debate than Clinton. As might be expected, many blogs on the left also felt that Sanders won the debate.

With his lack of conventional debate preparation, there were areas in which Sanders could have explained himself better, along with other points where Sanders clearly won on the issues.  He should have been  prepared for a question based upon the recent Meet the Press interview. I recently discussed why the Democratic Socialist label is not hurting Bernie Sanders. Despite the labels he prefers, Sanders seeks to reform capitalism, not eliminate it. It is notable that he did point out his support for small and medium sized business:

SANDERS: I think everybody is in agreement that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. We have got to encourage that. Of course, we have to support small and medium-sized businesses.

But you can have all of the growth that you want and it doesn’t mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. So what we need to do is support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake…

Sanders could have also done a better job on guns, but he did note his D- lifetime rating from the NRA (with Sanders also receiving an F at  least once).

Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating (ph) from the NRA. Let’s also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.

Also I believe, and I’ve fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can’t get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don’t have insurance or they’re too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately

While some Democrats will attack his record, I believe that Sanders’ approach of considering both the need for gun control and the rights of hunters to be a stronger position for a general election. Sanders would also be in a stronger position than Clinton to bring both sides to the table to work on sensible gun legislation.

Sanders was more prepared for the questions about Black Lives Matter. Note that Sanders repeated the phrase, but Clinton did not. Sanders wins a point over Clinton in his support for expanding Social Security. In contrast to the Republicans, it was good to see a political party which faced reality on climate change, but there are also aspects of Clinton’s environmental record which could have been challenged.

Sanders was right in arguing that war should only be considered as a last resort. Clinton was unable to defend her mistakes on Libya or Syria, but her opponents could also have done a better job of criticizing her on these. Perhaps it would have been different if Joe Biden was there, considering how he spent four years opposing Clinton’s hawkish views. Sanders was also far better than Clinton when discussing civil liberties, including his opposition to NSA surveillance, and marijuana laws, including opposition to the drug war. Despite calling himself a Democratic Socialist, in many ways Sanders is the most libertarian candidate running from either party (at least for us left-libertarians who concentrate on civil liberties as opposed to greater freedom for giant corporations).

Clinton was right in saying that the economy does better when a Democrat is in office. It was clear that any of the participants in last night’s debate would have been better than the Republicans running. She was knocked for her flip-flopping on the issues. exposed her for trying to throw her previous statements on TPP down the memory hole:

Clinton revised her earlier position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries, claiming that she merely said she “hoped” it would be a “gold standard.” But her earlier support was more unequivocal.

The topic arose when debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if some of her recent position changes were tied to political expediency, and he specifically referenced Clinton’s recent decision to oppose the TPP.

“You supported his trade deal dozens of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it,” Cooper said. “Will you say anything to get elected?”

Clinton said that over the course of her career, her values and principles have remained consistent, though some positions have evolved as she “absorb[s] new information.”

“You know, take the trade deal,” Clinton said. “I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans. And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

But Clinton didn’t add the “hoped it would be” qualifier when she made the initial comment about the TPP in 2012.

“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton remarked in Adelaide, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2012. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Two days later, in Singapore, Clinton again sang the praises of the TPP.

“The so-called TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region,” Clinton said. “It will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment. Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia’s middle class and rebalance the global economy.”

The same article also noted that Clinton has repeated some of the same lies she told in the past about the email scandal which have been debunked in the past by fact checkers,

When asked about her unusual email arrangement as secretary of state, Clinton said, “What I did was allowed by the State Department.” That’s not the full story.

Clinton conducted government business exclusively using a personal email account (, and those emails were stored on a private server.

As we have written before, the State Department and the Clinton campaign have cited a National Archives and Records Administration rule issued in 2009 that said federal agencies that allow the use of personal emails must preserve them “in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” So personal emails were allowed.

But federal rules also required Clinton to preserve her work emails “at the end of the Secretary’s tenure or sooner if necessary.” She did not turn over copies of her emails to the State Department until Dec. 5, 2014 — nearly two years after she left office on Feb. 1, 2013.

Also, whether the State Department allowed it or not, Clinton’s decision “to conduct all e-mail correspondence through a private e-mail network, using a address, is inconsistent with long-established policies and practices under the Federal Records Act and NARA regulations governing all federal agencies,” according to congressional testimony of Jason R. Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives, who is now a lawyer at Drinker Biddle.

Sanders’ biggest error was to present statistics for underemployment when making statements about unemployment, and got the ranking of the United States in income inequality wrong.

Sanders did provide an unexpected lifeline to Clinton when the email scandal came up, objecting to discussing this instead of the issues. It makes sense that he would not want to include this in his campaign, especially at a Democratic debate in front of partisan Democrats invited by the DNC. Besides, if Sanders had his way, he would talk about nothing other than income inequality and related economic matters throughout the debate, and the campaign. It is also unnecessary for Sanders to discuss this when there are still around thirty-six FOIA suits in progress along with the Justice Department investigation. If this was a debate in the general election, the Republicans could have raised a lot of valid points against Clinton, and this time would not have had to make things up as with Benghazi. As The Washington Post noted, the email scandal is not a problem which is going away. Sanders can sit back and let it all play out.

While both Clinton and Sanders could claim victories in this debate, the night did not go as well for the other candidates. I thought Martin O’Malley often did a fine job, including setting Clinton straight on economic policy at one point, but so far there are no signs he is receiving credit for this.  He has shown he could make a fine cabinet member, but it is hard to see him becoming a viable candidate for the nomination this year.

I give Lincoln Chafee credit for taking on Clinton over both her support for the Iraq war and over ethics. While he has no chance at becoming president, probably not now or ever, I do hope he remains around in politics, and perhaps in the next administration, to provide a conscience. Unfortunately he will be most remembered for being unprepared for his first vote as a Senator. Jim Webb blew any chance of using this debate to improve his campaign, and probably will only be remembered for having said he killed somebody.

Donald Trump also tried to get in on the action by live-blogging the debate, but he seemed totally over his head when issues came up. Once again, the Democrats showed they were far superior to the Republican candidates.


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How Negative Will Clinton Go Against Sanders and Biden?

Sanders Raise Money Clinton Super Pac

Considering how dirty her 2008 campaign was against Obama, there has been speculation as to how negative Hillary Clinton will get against Bernie Sanders, and against Joe Biden if he decides to run. The New York Times notes that Clinton must be cautious in debating Sanders:

Over the next week, Mrs. Clinton and her aides will look for the best way to explain to viewers why she is a better choice than her nearest rival without sounding condescending to Mr. Sanders, or dismissive of his views, so she does not risk alienating his growing army of supporters.

“I’ve seen every attack people have thrown at him, and none of them have worked,” cautioned Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who supports Mrs. Clinton.

Not all of them have been exactly subtle. In 2004, the Republican challenging him for his House seat sought to deride him as a political oddball. “Crazy Bernie,” an advertisement called him, “a holdover from the Woodstock days of reefer and flowers.” But Vermont voters did not seem to mind…

For Mrs. Clinton, debating Mr. Sanders poses a challenge reminiscent of the more troublesome one she faced in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama’s criticisms of her were widely characterized as fair, but Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to counter them and defend herself often were not.

Already, a “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton showed the risks that can come if an unsuccessful attack on Mr. Sanders blows back. As The Huffington Post reported, the super PAC, Correct the Record, in a document that was intended to be off the record, drew a connection between Mr. Sanders and Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela who died in 2013, because Mr. Sanders supported a deal to bring low-cost Venezuelan oil to New England. Mr. Sanders, calling it “the same-old, same-old negative politics,” seized on the report and raised more than $1 million in two days.

More on how Sanders set fund raising records in response to this attack here. Clinton’s dirty campaign in 2008 led many Democrats, such as Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy  to ultimately endorse Obama instead of her, and any dirty tricks from Clinton this campaign might have the same effect.

Clinton might try to attack Sanders’ views but this will be difficult because of how often he has been right on the issues and Clinton has been wrong. Clinton has often avoided discussing the issues in this campaign, and she did not do a good job on education. Alternet reports Hillary Clinton Delivers a Lame Attack on Bernie Sanders’ Free College Tuition Plan. Just wait until they talk about Iraq during the upcoming debate.

Clinton’s attacks on Sanders have generally come through surrogates. Politico reports on how Morning Joe is responding to the use of surrogates:

There’s a mandate on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: No candidate surrogates or spokespeople can appear on the show until the candidate agrees to be interviewed. And it all started with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“The rule was put in place for Hillary’s campaign because while just about every other candidate came on, the Clinton team kept trying to put out surrogates and staffers,” host Joe Scarborough told POLITICO. “We finally said ‘not until the candidate comes on herself.’ And then some suggested we have Jeb [Bush’s] people on a month or so ago, but we held to the same policy.”

Bush himself went on the show last week, meaning his surrogates and spokespeople can now appear as well. But Clinton, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, none of whom has appeared on the show since they announced their campaigns, will have to wait.

“It applies to everybody. It just started with Hillary because her people were aggressive with getting pollsters and spokespeople on, but it applies to everyone,” Scarborough said. “That’s the fairest way to do it.”

While I often disagree with Joe Scarborough, this policy does sound like a good idea.

New York Magazine reports that Clinton’s usual hit-man, former Republican hit-man David Brock, will be leading the attacks on Joe Biden:

If Joe Biden jumps into the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will be ready to go on the offensive. According to a source close to the Clinton campaign, a team of opposition researchers working on behalf of Clinton is currently digging through Biden’s long record in office to develop attack lines in case the vice-president runs. The research effort started about a month ago and is being conducted by operatives at Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary superpac founded by David Brock, which is coordinating with the Clinton campaign. According to the source, the research has turned up material on Biden’s ties to Wall Street; his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osma bin Laden; and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The oppo-research project reveals how seriously Clintonworld is taking the prospect of a Biden candidacy. So far, Clinton hasn’t taken any direct shots at Biden herself. But behind the scenes, her loyalists are making moves to blunt Biden’s campaign should he run. “Even implicitly his campaign’s argument would be ‘I have integrity and you don’t,'” a Clinton ally said. “If that’s the message, this could be messier than Obama-Clinton ’08. At least Obama had the Iraq War vote and could make a case about generational change. This guy” — Biden — “is older than she is and just as conventional.”

A spokesperson for the Clinton campaign declined to comment.

Joe Biden might respond that while they voted the same on the initial Iraq vote, their views otherwise were quite different. Biden spent the next several months looking for alternatives to war while Clinton was one of the strongest advocates of going to war, including making false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Biden often opposed Clinton’s more hawkish views as Secretary of State. Biden was pushing for Obama to “evolve” on same-sex marriage while Clinton was still opposed to it. Biden did not join up with the religious right while in the Senate as Clinton did. Biden didn’t spend his time in the Senate proposing to make flag burning a felony, or waging a war against video games as Clinton did. While Biden is not my first choice, he is certainly not as conservative as Clinton on social issues and foreign policy. Both Clinton and Biden have problems with regards to their ties to Wall Street and their hard line views on the drug war.

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The Second Republican Debate: Faux Controversies, Lies, And One Candidate Was Even Right Twice

CNN Republican Debate

The second Republican debate (transcript here), this time hosted by CNN, didn’t raise as much controversy as the first. Donald Trump was still a dominant force, but whenever the talk got to policy, Trump didn’t know what to say and was quieter. CNN did try to liven things up with having the candidates respond to comments about them from other candidates. This included both comments during the debates and often insults made to the media before the debates. While at times it was a good idea to have the candidates interact, often it was over matters far to trivial to really belong in the debate.

This did allow Carly Fiorina to have one of the better moments of the debate, and she was obviously ready to comment on this insult from Donald Trump:

TRAPPER: In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona.

FIORINA: You know, it’s interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

While candidates often exceeded their time, Fiorina responded perfectly with this brief comment.

It was overall a good night for Fiorina, who might have done more than anyone else to improve her position in the GOP race with her debate performance. Unfortunately doing well in a Republican race does not require telling the truth. She repeated previously debunked claims about her record at HP. While she sounded more forceful than Donald Trump in saying how she would deal with Russia and Syria, Ezra Klein pointed out how she got the facts wrong. Klein, along with Sarah Kliff also pointed out how she was wrong about the Planned Parenthood tapes. There was no scene such as the one she described:

FIORINA: I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

Of course most, if not all, of the candidates were also lying about Planned Parenthood during the debate. Even if they didn’t make a claim as blatantly false as Fiorina did, they repeated the debunked claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

The biggest whopper came from Jeb Bush when he responded to criticism of his brother from Donald Trump:

TRUMP: Your brother — and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster, those last three months, that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.

BUSH: You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.

Both Trump and Jeb Bush were wrong about Obama and George Bush in the above exchange, but it is Jeb’s comments which were the most absurd. The most destructive terrorist attack on the United States occurred on George Bush’s watch, with Bush ignoring intelligence reports which might have enabled the United States to prevent the attack. Bush then followed up the attack by foolishly getting us into the quagmire in Iraq.

Rand Paul is one of the candidates who was nearly forgotten. Donald Trump, who insulted so many of the other candidates that I thought he was preparing to fire one, even said:

TRUMP: Well, first of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11, he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here, there’s far too many people anyway.

While Paul is certainly wrong on many, many things, I noted he was right on two points during the debate.  For this group, just being right twice makes him stand out.

First he pointed out that military intervention is not always the best idea:

PAUL: I think this gets to the point of wisdom on when to intervene and when we shouldn’t. Had we bombed Assad at the time, like President Obama wanted, and like Hillary Clinton wanted and many Republicans wanted, I think ISIS would be in Damascus today. I think ISIS would be in charge of Syria had we bombed Assad.

Sometimes both sides of the civil war are evil, and sometimes intervention sometimes makes us less safe. This is real the debate we have to have in the Middle East.

Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we’re more at risk. So, I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us.

Paul missed the point Obama successfully stepped back from the brink, but his overall point is correct about thinking before engaging in senseless military intervention.

Paul also also criticized the drug war during the debate:

TAPPER: Many people on social media wanted us to ask about marijuana legalization. Senator Paul, Governor Christie recently said, quote, “if you’re getting high in Colorado today,” where marijuana has been legalized, “enjoy it until January 2017, because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana.” Will you?

PAUL: I think one of the great problems, and what American people don’t like about politics, is hypocrisy. People have one standard for others and not for them — for themselves.

There is at least one prominent example on the stage of someone who says they smoked pot in high school, and yet the people going to — to jail for this are poor people, often African-Americans and often Hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t.

I personally think that this is a crime for which the only victim is the individual, and I think that America has to take a different attitude. I would like to see more rehabilitation and less incarceration. I’m a fan of the drug courts which try to direct you back towards work and less time in jail.

But the bottom line is the states. We say we like the 10th Amendment, until we start talking about this. And I think the federal government has gone too far, I think that the war on drugs has had a racial outcome, and really has been something that has really damaged our inner cities.

Not only do the drugs damage them, we damage them again by incarcerating them and then preventing them from getting employment over time.

So I don’t think that the federal government should override the states. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.

Paul was generally right on two points, but neither are going to help him in a Republican primary battle. It is also rather sad that the Democratic front-runner has been wrong on both issues, with Clinton supporting both greater military intervention and being a hard-liner on drug laws.

Paul was more mixed on vaccines. He didn’t go along with Donald Trump’s claims about a connection between vaccines and autism, but also wasn’t consistent with the science:

TAPPER: Mr. Trump, as president, you would be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, both of which say you are wrong. How would you handle this as president?

TRUMP: Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.

I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby in — and I’ve seen it — and I’ve seen it, and I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over a two or three year period of time.

Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me.

Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

Paul later responded:

One of the greatest — one of the greatest medical discoveries of all times was — were the vaccines, particularly for smallpox. And if you want to read a story, it’s called The Speckled Monster, it’s an amazing story, it was all done voluntary.

But people came in by the droves. George Washington wouldn’t let his wife visit until she got vaccinated. So I’m all for vaccines. But I’m also for freedom.

I’m also a little concerned about how they’re bunched up. My kids had all of their vaccines, and even if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least.

The debate will probably not change the race very much but it is a good thing that the candidates were provided this opportunity to present their views to a national audience on a repeated basis. If only the Democratic National Committee would do the same this year and allow more than six debates total.

Update: The New York Times reviewed  Crazy Talk at the Republican Debate with Paul Krugman adding additional Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate

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Obama Plans Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Obama plans to free dozens of federal prisoners held on nonviolent drug offenses. The New York Times reported:

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of his clemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

It looks like a tiny step in the right direction. We also need repeal of the drug laws which place such people in prison, and an extension of this to the states. This is a tiny percentage of those held nation-wide for drug-related crimes.

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Hillary Clinton’s Insufficient Repudiation Of Her Previous Right Wing Views On Crime And The Drug War

Hillary Clinton Crime Speech

The recent events in Baltimore, leading to the indictment of six police officers, have demonstrated the failure of the war on drugs and overly-aggressive police action. Hillary Clinton gave one of her typical speeches based upon the direction the wind is blowing, lacking details or any real sense of conviction, and failing to go far enough. It is a good thing that to some degree she her repudiated previous views, but for most opponents of the war on drugs and the Clinton’s right-wing approach to crime, this was too little and too late.  Jacob Sullum, who covers “the war on drugs from a conscientious objector’s perspective,” wrote Why Hillary Clinton Lacks Credibility On Criminal Justice Reform.

For critics who have long argued that our criminal justice system puts too many people behind bars for too long, Clinton’s words of outrage were welcome. But they were also hard to take seriously given her history on this issue. While condemning overincarceration, she glided over her own role in promoting it and exaggerated her efforts to correct it. She referred only obliquely to the war on drugs, which has played an important role in sending nonviolent offenders to prison. And three decades after the prison population began the dramatic climb that she now considers shameful, Clinton offered almost no specific ideas for reversing it, which makes her look like a dilettante compared to politicians in both major parties who have given the issue serious thought.

As first lady in the 1990s, Clinton was a cheerleader for the “tough on crime” policies that produced the “era of mass incarceration” she now condemns. “We need more police,” she said in a 1994 speech. “We need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” The Clinton administration gave us all that and more, bragging about building more prisons, locking up more people (including nonviolent offenders) for longer stretches, opposing parole, expanding the death penalty, putting more cops on the street, and implementing a “comprehensive anti-drug strategy.”

In a 2001 report, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) noted that Bill Clinton “stole the ‘get tough on crime’ show” from Republicans by “consistently support[ing] increased penalties and additional prison construction.” The highlight of his efforts was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which subsidized cops and prisons, restricted gun ownership, expanded the use of the death penalty, created new mandatory minimum sentences, and added to the list of federal crimes, which were already too numerous to count. Looking at the results of the crackdown that Clinton led at the federal level and encouraged at the state level, JPI dubbed him “the incarceration president.” The total prison population grew by 673,000 during Clinton’s eight years in office, compared to 448,000 during Ronald Reagan’s two terms. The number of federal prisoners doubled under Clinton, rising more than it did during the previous 12 years under his two Republican predecessors.

By the end of his second term, Clinton seemed to be having second thoughts about this incarceration binge. “We really need a reexamination of our entire policy on imprisonment,” he told Rolling Stone in October 2000. “There are tons of people in prison who are nonviolent offenders.” Seven years later, while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton’s wife expressed similar qualms. “Mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate,” she said during a debate in June 2007, “but it has been too widely used.”

During another debate that December, Clinton was asked whether she regretted how “your husband’s crime bill…has affected the black community, or do you stand by that?” Both, apparently:

I think that the results not only at the federal level but at the state level have been an unacceptable increase in incarceration across the board, and now we have to address that….There were reasons why the Congress wanted to push through a certain set of penalties and increase prison construction, and there was a lot of support for that across a lot of communities because…the crime rate in the early ’90s was very high. And people were being victimized by crime in their homes, in their neighborhoods and their business. But we’ve got to take stock now of the consequences, so that’s why…I want to have a thorough review of all of the penalties.

As Dara Lind notes at Vox, Clinton nevertheless attacked her rival Barack Obama as soft on crime because he thought some of those penalties were too harsh. A month after Clinton decried “an unacceptable increase in incarceration,” her campaign tried to undermine Obama by citing his criticism of mandatory minimums.

Clinton’s position on her husband’s crime policies—that they were appropriate back then but maybe went a little overboard—rankles activists who were resisting the war on drugs when Bill Clinton was escalating it. Here is how Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, put it in a Huffington Post essay on Wednesday:

“Even as I rejoice at this outbreak of bipartisanship on a cause to which I’ve devoted my life, I must admit it also brings up feelings of anger and disappointment at the failure of Hillary Clinton, and other candidates, and so many other ostensible leaders to acknowledge that they were willing and even eager proponents of the very policies that produced America’s records-breaking rates of incarceration. The laws and policies we embraced back in the 1980s and 1990s, they’re all saying in one way or another, were the right thing at the time—but now we just need to roll them back now that times have changed.

“But the drug war policies of that era were never justifiable, and the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that they did far greater harm than good. No policy that results in the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the highest in the history of democratic nations, is justifiable. And no policy that generated such devastating consequences for African American citizens and communities can or should ever be excused as a necessary response to the drug and crime problems a generation ago.”

Sullum noted Clinton’s lack of interest in reform as a Senator. I’d add that she was too busy collaborating with Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, and others in The Fellowship. Instead of calling for reform of the criminal justice system, she was busy backing both the war in Iraq and the war  on drugs, and busy pushing to make flag burning a penalty and for censorship of video games. Of course it is not rare for Clinton, after years of being on the wrong side of an issue, to finally come around. Quite often she as learned from her mistakes, but not until long after the damage was done. While it is common for Clinton to be to the right of the Democratic Party, on this issue she is even to the right of some Republicans:

Clinton is late to this party, and endorsing reforms backed by Republicans such as Paul, Cruz, and Lee would highlight that fact. Paul’s office responded to her speech by noting that “Hillary Clinton [is] trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration” and “is now emulating proposals introduced by Senator Rand Paul over the last several years.” The press release cited five criminal justice bills Paul already has introduced this session, addressing mandatory minimum sentencesasset forfeiturerestoration of felons’ voting rightsexpungement of criminal records, and police body cameras. “We welcome her to the fight,” it said.

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Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, And Clinton’s Cultural Conservatism

Clinton Marijuana

Following recent posts about Lincoln Chafee talking about running for the Democratic nomination I began looking to see if there are any other issues where the two have major differences besides Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. I was pleased to see that back in 2011 Chaffee called for a reclassification of medical marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substances, which puts states which have legalized medical marijuana at odds with federal laws.

Three years later, Martin O’Malley took this a step even further, signing a bill decriminalizing marijuana, while opposing outright legalization. Hillary Clinton, as would be expected from her overall cultural conservatism, has lagged behind the country, and the Democratic Party, on both legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana.

On a related issue, Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, while certainly not a major issue, was also an early issue in the 2008 nomination battle which differentiated the political philosophies of Clinton from the more liberal Barack Obama. Martin O’Malley, who is also moving well to the left on economic issues, signed a bill allowing needle exchange in Maryland. Clinton and Obama also differed in 2008 on reforming sentencing for violation of drug laws. While Obama’s record on the drug war has certainly been mixed, I would hate to see a move further to the right under Clinton.

Clinton’s cultural conservatism and promotion of conservative causes has often been traced to her membership in The Fellowship while in the Senate. From Mother Jones in 2007:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection…

That’s how it works: The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward…These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right…

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

As noted in the above excerpt, Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony. Her social conservatism is also seen in her weak record on abortion rights, such as supporting parental notification laws and stigmatizing women who have abortions with the manner in which she calls for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

(Links to additional material added on April 19)

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Two Democratic Congressmen Propose Bills To Legalize Marijuana At Federal Level

It is probably only a matter of time until marijuana prohibition ends. Like gay marriage, we will reach a tipping point where conservative opposition loses its impact. Also, like marriage equality, the majority of Democratic politicians will probably lag behind the country in openly adopting more liberal views, but two House Democrats have introduced bills to end marijuana prohibition. Sam Stein reports:

Two congressmen filed separate House bills on Friday that together would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana at the federal level, effectively ending the U.S. government’s decades long prohibition of the plant.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s schedules, transfer oversight of the substance from the Drug Enforcement Administration over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and regulate marijuana in a way similar to how alcohol is currently regulated in the U.S.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, which would set up a federal excise tax for regulated marijuana.

The bills would not force states to legalize marijuana, but a federal regulatory framework would be in place for those states that do decide to legalize it. To date, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana (however, D.C.’s model continues to ban sales), 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11 other states have legalized the limited use of low-THC forms of marijuana for medical use.

During the Bush administration, the federal government would often raid medical marijuana facilities which were legal in the states the states where they were legal, and the Obama administration was slow to turn this around. With Obama going to be out of office in a couple of years, it is becoming more important to change federal law. Hillary Clinton has been to the right of most Democrats on this (as well as most other issues) and we cannot trust either Clinton or her likely Republican opponent to continue the liberalization finally seen under Obama. While unlikely to be accomplished in the current Congress, it would be preferable to take this issue out of the hands of either Clinton or a future Republican president.

Last year The New York Times argued for legalization of marijuana. Jeffrey Miron discussed the case for marijuana legalization in op-ed at CNN:

Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana’s legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized…

Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

As long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level we will continue to have many of the adverse consequences of prohibition, including inhibiting the use of medical marijuana. This includes states where medical marijuana is legal under state law. Besides the previous problems of DEA raids, having medical marijuana illegal under federal law makes many physicians unwilling to treat patients who are legally using medical marijuana under state law.

I have seen many individuals who are taking medical marijuana legally under state law discharged from pain clinics which outright refuse to treat anyone using medical marijuana. This is both due to fears of violating federal law and due to personal biases.  I received a consult letter just last month from a pain specialist who opposed giving pain medications to a patient who was using medical marijuana, making arguments which are contradictory to the medical literature which demonstrates that using marijuana as part of a pain management regimen results in decreased opioid use and a decreased risk of overdoses.

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Federal Government Ends Prohibition On Medical Marijuana

The Los Angeles Times reports on a surprise in the recently passed spending bill–an end to the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. The was passed with support of both Democrats as well as some Republicans who opposed raid by the federal government in states which have legalized medical marijuana on states’ rights grounds:

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.

Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

Pot advocates had lobbied Congress to embrace the administration’s policy, which they warned was vulnerable to revision under a less tolerant future administration.

More important, from the standpoint of activists, Congress’ action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states’ right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine…

Some Republicans are pivoting off their traditional anti-drug platform at a time when most voters live in states where medical marijuana is legal, in many cases as a result of ballot measures.

Polls show that while Republican voters are far less likely than the broader public to support outright legalization, they favor allowing marijuana for medical use by a commanding majority. Legalization also has great appeal to millennials, a demographic group with which Republicans are aggressively trying to make inroads.

Approval of the pot measure comes after the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors last year to stop enforcing drug laws that contradict state marijuana policies. Since then, federal raids of marijuana merchants and growers who are operating legally in their states have been limited to those accused of other violations, such as money laundering.

“The federal government should never get in between patients and their medicine,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance, added this to his list of More Nails in the Drug War Coffin.

In addition to ending fears of raids by federal drug agents, this should also alleviate the fears of many physicians who are currently afraid to treat patients with medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. Many physicians, including some pain clinics, have been unwilling to treat patients with chronic pain who are using medical marijuana out of fear of retaliation by the DEA.

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