(Written by RU Sirius)
Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden has been arguably the most extreme drug warrior in the United States Senate since at least 1982 when he coined the mega-authoritarian phrase "drug czar" to describe the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He is also the man who is most responsible for pushing the "Rave Act" through Congress. The "Rave Act" is possibly the most absurd and potentially repressive piece of legislation the Congress has passed in recent years (and that's saying something!).
Biden's act was originally titled "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy." The bill was introduced in 2002 during the great Ecstasy (aka MDMA) panic of the early 2000s. (More people die from bad reactions to normal doses of aspirin than from MDMA every year.) It was reintroduced in 2003. That year, another version of the law, titled "The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act" was added to the "Amber Act," an emotionally fraught piece of legislation that created a national system for responding to child abduction, and which very few congress-people dared vote against. The "rave act" part of this legislation, signed into law by President George W. Bush, makes the sponsor of any public event legally responsible for any illegal drug exchanges or use that occurs at their event. The initial bill actually singled out raves as the likely enforcement target, but that language was changed as clearly prejudicial. In the words of a missive from the Drug Policy Alliance, which organized the opposition to this law, "Because of its broad language, the proposed law would even potentially subject people to twenty years in federal prison if guests smoked marijuana at their party or barbecue."
In fact, taken literally, the sponsor of the recent 68th annual Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle rally at the Buffalo Chips Campground, in South Dakota where John McCain was third-billed behind Kellie Pickler and Kid Rock, and where the smell of marijuana smoke wafted through the air - would be up for 20 years in an iron cage. A month after Biden's act was signed into law, DEA agents in Montana used it to intimidate the owners of a venue into canceling a benefit to raise money for Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
It is unclear whether this law has been used since that time, but every time the host of a private party, musical event, or Republican Party rally doesn't do everything within his or her power to make sure that absolutely nobody in attendance uses or exchanges any plants or chemicals that are currently illegal, he or she is technically liable for a punishment that is far more severe than the punishment that is meted out to the user or (probably) the dealer of the illicit substance.
Biden also wrote the law against shipping drug "paraphernalia" through the mail - that's the one that put Tommy Chong in jail.
Regarding medical marijuana for pain management, in 2007 Biden said, "There's got to be a better answer than marijuana." Of course, as every educated, informed person knows, the opiate drugs currently used for the management of intense pain are addictive, substantially harmful to health, and often fatal. The off-prescription use of these narcotics is the biggest drug problem today, particularly among young people. Marijuana has very few health counter-indications and there has never been a fatality from smoking or eating it.
There may be some recent signs of moderation in Biden's lifelong rut war fanaticism. In 2007, Biden introduced a bill to end the discrepancies between the punishment for possession of powdered and crack cocaine, effectively reducing the draconian sentences for possession and/or sale of small amounts of crack. And while campaigning in the recent Presidential primaries, Biden said he would end federal raids on medical marijuana patients (Of course, G.W. Bush said the same thing during the 2000 election campaign... and Bill Clinton told Rolling Stone we should decriminalize marijuana as he was leaving office).
It's interesting to note that earlier in the campaign, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a stalwart advocate of drug reform, was much discussed as the leading contender to become Obama's VP pick. Webb withdrew his name from consideration for that spot and has since commented on valuing his freedom to speak his mind.
Obama's positions on drug reform have been a moving target. Most famously, in 2004, Senator Obama said, "I think the war on drugs has been a failure, and I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws." He went on to say that he opposed "legalizing" marijuana.
For the most part, Candidate Obama has been silent on the drug war, although he recently suggested that an extra DEA office would be just what the doctor ordered for New Orleans.
Looking on the bright side, it's possible that a stalwart drug warrior like Biden would have the credibility necessary to start winding down the excesses of the drug war (the "Nixon Goes to China" theory that only conservatives can get away with introducing certain types of reforms).
Really, the most disheartening thing about Obama's selection of Biden for Vice President isn't the selection itself, but the fact that Biden's history as a drug war fanatic doesn't even warrant mention... on CNN, MSNBC (including Keith Olbermann), or even on the first day's coverage at Huffington Post. The terrible reality is that the approximately 11 million pot smokers and the many other mostly responsible users of recreational drugs that don't happen to be on the approved list just don't count at all as far as the American political mainstream is concerned.