Criticism over the United States' role in the war on drugs is increasingly making its way into mainstream discussion. As prominent officials such as former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter come out and publicly concede that the policies they followed to bolster a broad system based on drug enforcement and prohibition didn't work, drug policy reformers are clamoring to know why President Barack Obama is continuing to neglect the lessons of the past and present.
But who is responsible for the administration's decision to prolong and even intensify the drug war, both domestically and abroad?
In a Rolling Stone article published last week, Tim Dickinson quotes a former White House official with intimate knowledge of the matter who claims that Vice President Joe Biden is a prime culprit:
"There are not many friends to legalization in this administration," says Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida who served the White House as a top adviser on marijuana policy. In fact, the politician who coined the term "drug czar" -- Joe Biden -- continues to guide the administration's hard-line drug policy. "The vice president has a special interest in this issue," Sabet says. "As long as he is vice president, we're very far off from legalization being a reality."
The Huffington Post reached out to Biden's office for comment on Sabet's claim. It denied the request.
As HuffPost's Radley Balko wrote for his Agitator blog back in 2008 when rumors of Biden's selection as a vice presidential candidate were in full force, the former Delaware senator has a harsh record when it comes to the drug war:
From a policy perspective, it’s a disaster. Biden has sponsored more damaging drug war legislation than any Democrat in Congress. Hate the way federal prosecutors use RICO laws to take aim at drug offenders? Thank Biden. How about the abomination that is federal asset forfeiture laws? Thank Biden. Think federal prosecutors have too much power in drug cases? Thank Biden. Think the title of a “Drug Czar” is sanctimonious and silly? Thank Biden, who helped create the position (and still considers it an accomplishment worth boasting about). Tired of the ridiculous steroids hearings in Congress? Thank Biden, who led the effort to make steroids a Schedule 3 drug, and has been among the blowhardiest of the blowhards when it comes to sports and performance enhancing drugs. Biden voted in favor of using international development aid for drug control (think plan Colombia, plan Afghanistan, and other meddling anti-drug efforts that have only fostered loathing of America, backlash, and unintended consequences). Oh, and he was also the chief sponsor of 2004′s horrendous RAVE Act.
Balko went on to note that Biden, who still opposes legalization of marijuana for medical use, did speak out in years leading up to his 2008 presidential campaign against federal raids on medical marijuana clinics in states where they are sanctioned. But if Biden is still opposed to such raids, the Obama administration has shown little interest in reflecting the vice president's position over its first term, overseeing far more federal raids on dispensaries than under President George W. Bush.
All signs suggest that Biden's rigid drug policy positions extend to his views at the international level as well. While Latin American nations embroiled in the war on drugs have begun to show signs of discontent with the current strategy, Biden has made it clear that the administration is not on the same page. During a meeting earlier this year with leaders of Central American countries -- hotbeds of drug production that fuel the demand of American consumers -- Biden signaled that the U.S. would continue to pursue a policy reliant on attempting to eliminate supply, demand and the crime that is propagated by the drug trade.
"The Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs," he said at the time, according to HuffPost blogger Laura Carlsen. "At the same time, we've also been very open -- the president has said it on numerous occasions, in meetings with leaders and publicly -- of our willingness, our interest, in engaging in a robust dialogue with our partners to determine how we can be most effective in confronting the transnational criminal organizations, and, in this case in Central America, the gangs that are adversely affecting people's daily lives and daily routines."
While the willingness to engage in "robust dialogue" sounds promising, Obama officials have so far made it quite clear that drug decriminalization or legalization isn't part of the discussion, regardless of what their foreign counterparts may be considering.
Whatever Biden's role in these affairs, there is nothing to suggest that the vice president is involved in crafting a drug policy that Obama doesn't ultimately support and agree with. In the end, the president must sign off on the pro-drug war platform of his administration, leaving him to face the criticism for its actions.
Sam Stein contributed reporting.