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As the 2012 election approaches, the similarities between candidates are troubling.

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What do Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich have in common? They were both pot smokers.

“When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently,” Obama said. “That was the point.”

Gingrich said, “That was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era.”

What else do Obama and Gingrich have in common? They have both flip-flopped on the issue of medical marijuana.

In 2011, the Obama administration issued a memo approving federal prosecution of anyone in the business of growing or supplying marijuana for medical patients, ordering the Justice Department to crack down on dispensaries even if they complied with state law.

But Obama had promised in 2008 that he would let states set their own policies. Could this change of position possibly be related to the fact that during his presidential campaign he received $2.1 million from pharmaceutical companies, many of which developed synthetic marijuana products?

In 1991, then-Congressman Gingrich introduced pro-medical-marijuana legislation. In 2011, he changed his position.

“What has changed was the number of parents I met with who said they did not want their children to get the signal from the government that it was acceptable behavior,” Gingrich explained, adding that Americans who need medical marijuana will simply have to cope with the inconvenience of debilitating pain and nausea.

His supporters, he continued, “were prepared to say as a matter of value, it was better to send a clear signal on no drug use at the risk of inconveniencing some people, than it was to be compassionate toward a small group at the risk of telling a much larger group that it was okay to use the drug. It’s a change of information. Within a year of my original support of that bill I withdrew it.”

Mixing political pandering with drug control is an established practice in the fear-mongering disinformation business. In 1998, an anti-drug booklet with a foreword by Senator Orrin Hatch informed parents that among the warning signs that their children are using marijuana or other drugs is “excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations, environmental issues, etc.”

That same year, in Mississippi, anyone found guilty of possessing marijuana for any reason could face the removal of a limb if proposed legislation became law. Congressman Bobby Moak (R-Lincoln County) introduced a bill that authorized “the removal of a body part in lieu of other sentences imposed by the court for violations of the Controlled Substances Law.” Keith Stroup, then-executive director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), called the measure “political posturing at its most extreme. This is a truly barbaric proposal that shocks the conscience.”

A provision in the bill mandated that a convicted person and the court “must agree on which body part shall be removed.” Yes, you would have been required to choose between sacrificing an arm or a leg. And even that seems humane in comparison to Newt Gingrich’s sponsorship of federal bill HR 41, which would require the death penalty for individuals convicted of importing illegal drugs into the United States – including marijuana. Capital punishment could conceivably apply to someone who imported more than 50 grams of pot. That’s less than two ounces.           

And yet, in 1981, Gingrich introduced a bill that sought “to provide for the therapeutic use of marijuana in situations involving life-threatening illnesses or sense-threatening illnesses and to provide adequate supplies of marijuana for such use.” In 1982, he wrote a passionate letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association:

“The American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs should be commended for its report, ‘Marijuana: Its Health Hazards and Therapeutic Potential.’ Not only does the report outline evidence of marijuana’s potential harms, it distinguishes this concern from the legitimate issue of marijuana’s important medical benefits. All too often the hysteria that attends public debate over marijuana’s social abuse compromises a clear appreciation for this critical distinction.

Since 1978, 32 states have abandoned the federal prohibition to recognize legislatively marijuana’s important medical properties. Federal law, however, continues to define marijuana as a drug ‘with no accepted medical use,’ and federal agencies continue to prohibit physician-patient access to marijuana. This outdated federal prohibition is corrupting the intent of the state laws and depriving thousands of glaucoma and cancer patients of the medical care promised them by their state legislatures.

On September 16, 1981, Representatives Stewart McKinney and I introduced legislation designed to end bureaucratic interference in the use of marijuana as a medicant.

We believe licensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana, and patients have a right to obtain marijuana legally, under medical supervision, from a regulated source. The medical prohibition does not prevent seriously ill patients from employing marijuana; it simply deprives them of medical supervision and denies them access to a regulated medical substance. Physicians are often forced to choose between their ethical responsibilities to the patient and their legal liabilities to federal bureaucrats.

Representative McKinney and I hope the Council will take a close and careful look at this issue. Federal policies do not reflect a factual or balanced assessment of marijuana’s use as a medicant. The Council, by thoroughly investigating the available materials, might well discover that its own assessment of marijuana’s therapeutic value has, in the past, been more than slightly shaded by federal policies that are less than neutral.”

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Flash ahead to 1996: In an interview by Hilary Stout for the Wall Street Journal, Gingrich rationalized his ass off. “See,” he told her, “When I smoked pot, it was illegal, but not immoral. Now, it is illegal and immoral. The law didn’t change, only the morality… That’s why you get to go to jail and I don’t.”

Ultimately, the bottom line is that Newt Gingrich’s ability to look the other way and dehumanize people suffering because of the War on Weed enabled him to claim that child labor laws are “truly stupid,” suggesting that poor children should work as school janitors, later declaring that they don’t understand work unless they’re doing something illegal.

And, as for President Obama, his ability to look the other way and dehumanize people suffering because of the War on Weed enabled him to fight to keep cluster bombs, as reported in AllGov.com:

“American diplomats are lobbying for changes to the international treaty banning cluster bombs so the U.S. and other major military powers can join the protocol without actually giving up the deadly weapons. Cluster munitions are designed to burst open in mid-air and release anywhere from dozens to hundreds of smaller munitions that explode tiny fragments of metal, frequently injuring or killing civilian non-combatants.

Representatives from about 100 countries are discussing the US-backed proposal at the Fourth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva. The U.S. is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

 

The agreement currently bans the weapons, requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years, and mandates clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munitions within 10 years and assistance to victims. The US-backed amendments to the CCW would allow ongoing continued use, production, trade and stockpiling of cluster munitions.

 

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At various times, the United States has used cluster bombs in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Afghanistan and, most recently, Yemen. U.S. companies, with the permission of the federal government, have sold cluster munitions to at least 30 nations, most recently to the United Arab Emirates (2006), India (2008) and Saudi Arabia (2011).

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The U.S. maintains a stockpile of an estimated 5 million cluster munitions and 700 million submunitions.

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Zach Hudson, coordinator of the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines for Handicap International, told Inter Press Service that the changes sought by the Obama administration represent a “backslide” and are “really unacceptable.” Hudson added that the new draft “essentially undermines” the effort to rid the world of the destructive weapons.”

So, then, what else do Obama and Gingrich have in common? They both need a compassion transplant.