During America’s presidential campaign, George W. Bush said he’d respect state’s rights regarding medical marijuana. Albert Gore said medical marijuana had no value.
Five people- the same US Supreme Court justices who have ruled in favor of suspending civil liberties so police can fight the drug war- chose Bush president. Most honest people believe Gore got more votes in Florida, which turned out to be the state that helped decide the election outcome. Florida is controlled by W’s brother Jeb, who had promised to “deliver” the state to his brother. He did.
Now W is naming his choices for key positions. Marijuana advocates are paying attention to two key positions: attorney general, and head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Early on, the Bush team was looking at former California Attorney General Dan Lungren, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, and Montana Governor Mark Racicot to fill the attorney general slot. Lungren is a pot-hating, disgraced politician who harassed Dennis Peron, Steve Kubby and other medpot activists before he left office in 1998. Keating is a heartless cornpone Midwest governor who refused to free a disabled man imprisoned for 93 years on a minor marijuana offense. Racicot was widely viewed as a moderate, but he was too moderate to work for Bush, and withdrew himself from consideration.
In late December, Bush announced that his attorney general nominee was John Ashcroft, a former Republican governor of Missouri who recently served as a US Senator. Missouri Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash just before election day, challenged Ashcroft this year. Carnahan, although dead, defeated Ashcroft anyway. Carnahan’s wife will serve in his place.
The nomination of Ashcroft indicates that Bush intends to live up to his “tough on drugs” campaign pledge.
Ashcroft has been one of America’s most hard-line drug warriors. He’s a “born-again fundamentalist Christian” who recorded a set of gospel songs entitled “The Gospel According to John.” American fundamentalist leaders like Pat Robertson have contributed money to Ashcroft, who intended to run for president in 2000 as the darling of the so-called Christian Right. When polls showed Ashcroft that his extreme religious views made him unlikely to win the presidency, he decided to run again for the Senate.
As Bush’s attorney general, Ashcroft will have the power to make major legal decisions that will affect pot advocates, progressives, environmentalists, pagans, and women.
During his tenure as governor and in the Senate, Ashcroft peddled drug war hysteria. He led efforts to designate Missouri as a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” in 1996, which resulted in millions of dollars worth of support for DEA interdictions in the state. He pushed legislation aimed at controlling methamphetamines, including the Methamphetamine Control Act that would have banned Cannabis Culture and other pro-herb magazines.
In 1992, Ashcroft tried to get the Missouri legislature to pass a law with a provision that if a teenager was caught smoking marijuana, the teen’s entire family would be evicted from public housing. Ashcroft later pushed a law requiring revocation of driver’s licenses if a person was even accused of using marijuana. He also advocated a plan that would make a third marijuana misdemeanor conviction into an automatic felony.
Ashcroft also supported a proposal to force state governments to contract with fundamentalist churches in a scheme that allocated millions of taxpayer dollars be spent on religious programs that consisted mostly of proselytizing. The former senator tried to kill the National Endowment for the Arts, worked to limit the right of convicted felons to appeal their sentences and benefit from the Bill of Rights, and supported government censorship of the Internet.
He angered black leaders by derailing the nomination of a black judge appointed to US district court by Clinton in 1999, and by making comments indicating that he admired Confederate war heroes who fought to preserve slavery. He accepted an honorary degree from fundamentalist Bob Jones University, which until recently had a policy that banned dating between racial groups.
Ashcroft has long opposed reproductive freedom, and is frequently lauded by groups who worship fetuses and believe that women should be forced to have children, even if their pregnancies result from rape or incest.
Prominent members of the marijuana movement are troubled by the Ashcroft nomination.
“He was one of the most mean-spirited members of Congress,” said Keith Stroup, executive director of NORML. “He’ll be an incredible threat in every way. The Fourth Amendment will be overridden. He is the one who early on demanded Clinton’s impeachment and accused Clinton of being soft on drugs. He is going to make life miserable for us, especially for people looking for medical rights in states where they have been passed, for the next four years.”
Stroup said the drug policy reform movement has to move cautiously as Bush takes power, but he doesn’t view a Bush presidency as a total disaster.
“I’ve lived through a number of presidents, and it’s hard to tell sometimes who will turn out to be better for you,” Stroup said. “We thought Clinton would have been good, and now you see that he tells Rolling Stone that small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized, and we are hoping he will pardon all non-violent drug offenders, but under Clinton, we have seen more marijuana arrests than ever before. Maybe Bush will be a good target, a visible opponent that we can all rally against.”
NORML and some of its Congressional allies might bring a marijuana decrim bill to Congress within a year, Stroup predicted.
“We’re also looking at hope in states like New Mexico, where the governor is on our side,” he said. “We are going to run an ad campaign there, and try to get decrim passed. It’s nice to have some places where progress can be made.”
The big question for Stroup and other reformers is who will run ONDCP. As 2000 draws to a close, Bush has yet to name a new drug czar. With General Barry “Shoot ’em while they’re running” McCaffrey departing, the short list for the position includes Florida Congressman Bill McCollum, who has long opposed medical marijuana and favors harsh penalties, including death, for all drug users.
“Bill has been meeting with the Bush-Cheney transition team,” said McCollum spokeswoman Susan Dryden. “But so far we don’t know if he is going to get the ONDCP position. People have also heard that Bill will be offered a job as head of the CIA. So far, nothing has been offered.”
Many Americans are waking up to the fact that the 2000 presidential election may have been far more important than they thought it was.
Groups who oppose the Bush coronation are planning inauguration day protests in Washington, DC on January 20th, and are inviting people from around the world to participate. Some observers estimate that 100,000 out of the expected 500,000 people who will attend the inauguration will be anti-Bush protesters.
“Bush was not elected by the people,” said Sarah Grayson, a human rights advocate. “The DC police and US Park Police are sending infiltrators and narks in to our protest planning meetings, trying to instigate illegal activities and cause trouble. We caught a few of them and ran them out. Last time we protested in DC, during the IMF meetings, police broke the law and broke our heads. They put their hands on women’s genitals and bludgeoned kids. This time we are ready for them, and we will make sure that our right to protest this coup will not be abated. We need all people who love human rights, freedom, the earth, women, and marijuana to come out and stand up with us. Bush could well be the new Hitler, and it’s time for us to stand up to him now, before another Holocaust takes place, before another world war.”
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Marijuana activist Ben Masel is organizing one of the protests. He can be reached via email at [email protected]