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Hillary Clinton on Drugs: Election 2016, Part II

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Part I of our Election 2016 series. And, if you haven’t, go vote! 

Last week went about as well as Donald Trump could have realistically hoped for. His polling crept upward as allegations of sexual assault faded to a dull roar and FBI director James Comey delivered to the anti-Hillary Clinton rumor mill what appeared to be an October Surprise: yet another trove of unreleased emails. Trump even had the distinction of a Points breakdown of his positions on hot-button drug policy issues. (However critical the post, it seems most press is good press for the former reality TV star.)

Fortunately for the Clinton campaign, Comey backpedaled this weekend, halting any late-game momentum for Trump generated by the latest virtual controversy. In fact, as of this writing polling indicates Clinton will become the next president of the United States. Today’s post subjects her to the same scrutiny he endured last week. Hopefully it will engage Points readers curious about the policy aims of the probably-incoming Clinton administration, or perhaps even the minority of Points readers still on the fence on election day.



Courtesy, Mother Jones

Back in August, the Drug Enforcement Agency denied for the fourth time a petition to downgrade marijuana from the hyperprohibitive Schedule I to the slightly less onerous Schedule II. DEA did, however, ease restrictions on research institutions to grow their own supply.

In response, Clinton policy advisor Maya Harris issued a statement to the Cannabist, promising that “Hillary will build on the important steps announced today by rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance.” Clinton had publicly supported the idea earlier but made no definite commitment to rescheduling. Such a reclassification would acknowledge that cannabis has a currently accepted medical use and open doors for further research into its effects.

Clinton’s longtime “wait and see” attitude toward marijuana, which generally pointed to states as “laboratories of democracy” for both medical and recreational initiatives, has over the past year evolved into something like “proceed with caution”: she supports states moving in either direction and, in typical technocratic fashion, wants more facts and figures on its utility. “There’s great, great anecdotal evidence [about what marijuana can do for people],” she told Jimmy Kimmel in March, “but I want us to start doing the research.”

Policy reformers have some room to doubt Clinton, who received only a B+ (to Trump’s C+) grade from the Marijuana Policy Project, and whose non-inhaling husband signed the infamous 1994 crime bill into federal law. Others question the real value of rescheduling marijuana at all. But even if Clinton drags her feet, President Barack Obama recently wondered aloud if federal prohibition would be “tenable” if (when) California goes fully legal this year.

Opioid Addiction

“There are 23 million Americans suffering from addiction,” Clinton wrote in an op-ed for the New Hampshire Union Leader last fall. “But no one is untouched. We all have friends and family who are affected.”

Unlike Trump, who has given some lip service and even less thought to opioid addiction, Clinton has repeatedly offered inclusive rhetoric and policy ideas to combat the ongoing epidemic.

Specifically, she proposes a new $7.5 billion dollar federal fund to reward states with innovative solutions to drug addiction. Her plan also increases funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant by 25 percent, and she would coordinate between Medicare and Medicaid to ensure all levels of government are making it easier for individuals to seek treatment. Clinton also believes all first responders should carry naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversal drug. Finally, she would require physicians to complete additional training and consult a prescription drug monitoring program before writing any new scripts.

Less specifically, Clinton holds vaguely progressive notions about prioritizing treatment and rehabilitation over prison for “low-level and nonviolent” drug offenders, while also reducing the stigma of addiction as a disease rather than a vice or moral failing.


In the aftermath of California’s 1996 referendum legalizing medical marijuana, when the first (Bill) Clinton administration threatened to prosecute dispensaries to the fullest extent of federal law, legal journalist Anthony Lewis wrote that American drug policy is often “immune to reason.” And his point remains essentially true today: drug politics are usually more beholden to belief than fact, as are policing patterns that disproportionately target people of color when they use at similar rates to their white peers, to name two examples.

The challenge for the second Clinton, notoriously bad as she is at tramping out of the policy weeds and actually selling an idea to the American people, will be navigating this dizzying interplay.

It will be interesting to see how the drug war plays out under a Clinton presidency. Her ideas on drug policy in particular, and criminal justice reform in general, which markedly diverge from the “Blue Lives Matter” ethos of Trump and his conservative ilk, offer some promise of a less punitive approach.

Perhaps a policy-wonk-in-chief is just what the country needs to make it a little more susceptible to reason.


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