Within the U.S., in 1992 and into 1993, a widespread belief persisted that the incoming administration of U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton would be favorably inclined to drug policy reform, being of a generation generally more tolerant towards illicit drugs, and hence that a Clinton Administration could mean some sort of Cannabis decriminalization. Furthermore, because of prohibition’s iron law of favoring more concentrated dangerous substances, I saw the theoretical potential for his wife Hillary becoming interested in an objective official look at differing medicinal substances, including Cannabis and Coca, given her stated interest in health care.
An example of this optimism was a letter by D.P.F. President Arnold Trebach dated November 11, 1992, days after the end of the 1992 D.P.F. conference and the election of William Jefferson Clinton as President of the United States of America: There is an historic opportunity to reverse our destructive drug policy... It is going to take an aggressive effort on our part to ensure that positive steps are taken in drug control during this time of change in political leadership. Among the projects we are planning are:- A seminar for the new members of Congress elected this year which will feature leading speakers for the reform of drug policy;It was from the November, 1992 conference that the Washington, D.C. City Paper included a photograph of myself was snapped waiting to speak with Ethan Nadelmann at this photo’s center, talking to a third person whose back is turned to the camera, uncaptioned as to our identities, but with the three of us beneath a Drug Policy Foundation banner, within its --- issue article upon the drug policy reform movement, titled “Just Say Whoa!”
- Renewal of our Drug Policy Reform series on Capitol Hill- plans include six forums on key drug policy issues in 1993;
- The publication of an expanded National Drug Reform Strategy which will outline alternative policies which could be implemented both in the near future and the long term. In addition to these specific projects the Foundation will be continuing all of the work it has been doing over the last six years. The Foundation will be regularly writing columns to be published on the editorial pages of the country, meeting with editorial boards to discuss alternatives to current policy as well as with reporters who cover the drug issue to ensure that the reform viewpoint gets the attention it deserves. We must reach the media with reform message. Our television series, “America’s Drug Forum,” will be advertisements on the drug issue. In short, we will expand the level of debate on the drug issue.
This photo’s juxtaposition with the caption “D.P.F. to White House: “can we talk” could appear to prophesize a D.P.F. delegation including its readily identifiable figures Nadelmann and myself being received at the White House to discuss drug policy issues. (I would have looked forward to explaining how the drug laws distort drug use.)
The Administration of U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton would ultimately prove to be a major disappointment to anyone expecting any significant change in the drug prohibition laws, with Clinton himself justifying his support for their continuation by stating that he believed that prohibition had spared the life of his brother who had been described as a heavy drug abuser of cocaine powder: an analysis disregarding the iron law of prohibition in popularizing such concentrated forms of drugs. With his 1992 Democrat Party platform calling for legalizing nothing, and hiring 100,000 new police officers to enforce the existing laws!
More visible initially was the Clinton Administration’s cutting of the size of the “Drug Czar’s” office (Office of National Drug Control Policy) from 146 to 25. Yet his $13.1 billion drug war annual budget presented in March 1993 was virtually the same as what the preceding U.S. George Bush Sr. proposed in 1992, including a 70% allocation of funds to law enforcement.
Some of his appointees would exhibit some variance on drug policy. One of the first official acts of Janet Reno, Clinton’s appointee for Attorney General was to order a review of mandatory minimum sentences upon the criminal justice system. This report, completed by September 1993, but not released until January 1994, found over 20% of all federal inmates were low level non violent drug prohibition offenders, with over 67% of these serving at least 5 or 10 years, with higher proportions for the State prisons because most drug offenses are prosecuted at the State level. Meanwhile, by November 1993 Clinton had public ally endorsed a new crime bill with additional mandatory minimum sentences. In the time since, Janet Reno has said far less about anything regarding any changes to drug related policy. `
Another such figure was Jocelyn Elders, Clinton’s appointee for Surgeon General, confirmed by the U.S. Congress September 7, 1993, who was first reported as the appointee for the Administrator of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and who willingly faced controversy by publicly endorsing sex education and prescribed cannabis (marijuana) for medicinal purposes. In office, one of her earlier acts was to direct the U.S. Public Health Service to start a review of the preceding Bush Administration’s policy prohibiting even “compassionate” medical cannabis (marijuana): a position contradicted by the Clinton Administration’s Drug Enforcement Agency’s defense in the U.S. Court of Appeals of the statutory definition of cannabis (marijuana) as having no medical value. Her stated open mindedness to drug legalization would bring Clinton to have her reigned into the drug war party line, following her December 1993 exchange with reporters after a speech about violence, where, she responded to a reporter’s question by noting that: 60% violent crime was drug, or alcohol, related, much of it 'to get money to buy drugs', and that such crime therefore might be significantly reduced 'if drugs were legalized' (San Francisco Examiner,1993).
She noted that she did not 'know all the ramifications of [legalization]', but thought 'we do need to do some studies' (Baltimore Sun, December 8,1993; cited in Drug Policy Letter,1994, p.9). Within hours the White House repudiated Dr. Elder's position with a statement by Drug control Director Lee Brown:'The President is against legalizing drugs, and he's not interested in studying the issue' … legalization is a formula for self destruction' that would inflict 'terrifying damage' (San Francisco Examiner, 1993).President Clinton immediately afterwards forbad Dr. Elders from making any public statements supporting the idea of studying drug legalizations, or medical marijuana. Within 2 weeks, authorities issued and executed an arrest warrant for Dr. Elders’s 20 year old son, Kevin on a drug charge on an event that occurred in July 1993 while she was going through her U.S. Senate confirmation hearings. It alleged that he sold 1.85 (slightly more then 50% of an “eight-ball”) grams of cocaine hydrochloride powder to a friend turned police informer Calvin Walraven. This charge had a ten year sentence in prison under the mandatory minimum sentencing laws of the State of Arkansas. This prosecution was notable not only for the 5 month gap between the “offense” and the arrest warrant, but also for its amount of effort and timing. Little Rock Police would spend 3 months watching the son (who was known by police to be a user of alcohol and cocaine), of the prospective surgeon general (with the Little Rock Police inducing Calvin Walraven to induce Kevin to sell him the 1.85 grams of cocaine powder on July 29, 1993. On July 28, 1994, Calvin Walraven was found dead with a bullet hole in his head; the death was ruled a suicide.
Dr. Elders has since said little about these topics, and failed to publicly comment on the 1992-3 Alternative Coca Reduction Strategies in the Andean Region report by Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, report, with the O.T.A. being disbanded only a few years later. After serving 105 days in prison, he was released last December 15th. As Elders has described this: "He had a year of intensive treatment before he went to prison," says Elders. "Kevin now has a job selling cars, and he goes to AA every day. I'm not saying it's right that my son used or bought drugs, but the arrest may have been God's way of saving him."
Elders publicly maintains a positive attitude towards Clinton. By 1994’s end, Clinton had requested and received Elder’s resignation. Reportedly, this was his response to a political outcry from members of the opposition Republican Party to Elder’s answer at a December 1, 1994, United Nations-sponsored conference on AIDS to a question about combating the spread of AIDS through discussing masturbation: " to masturbation, I think that it is something that is a is a part of human sexuality, and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught." As such, it should be a part of a "comprehensive" sex education program at a school-age level. " With billions annually spent on a drug war and treating AIDS, masturbation would be the issue used by Clinton to end any White House dissent about drug policy.
Less visibly in the U.S., the Clinton Administration would furthermore continue the policies of previous Republican and Democrats in foreign affairs, by stymieing any research that did not conform to the law’s assumptions, with its diplomats bringing pressure to suppress such.