How Obama and Botticelli's Drug Policies Contradict Their Own Life Experiences

Obama potus
Feb 15 2016

How Obama and Botticelli’s Drug Policies Contradict Their Own Life Experiences

In his memoir Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama described his youthful drug use. He discussed smoking “reefer” at Occidental College and, before that, he “indulged in marijuana, alcohol and sometimes cocaine as a high school student in Hawaii.”

He now regards this behavior as stupid and misguided, as he explained  to The New Yorker: “I view [marijuana use] as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked …through a big chunk of my adult life.”

While acknowledging that he doesn’t think that “it is more dangerous than alcohol,” the President opposes legalization of the drug: “If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?”

So Barack Obama opposes legalizing drugs he himself used in a controlled manner, even as he acknowledges the dysfunction of jailing people (mainly inner-city people) for using drugs.

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Michael Botticelli [Source]

Now let’s turn to the US “Drug Czar,” Michael Botticelli, another Titan of our national drugs policy. He, speaking for the White House, opposes legalizing any drugs (including even medical marijuana). Why? Well, as a person in recovery, of course he realizes the dangers of illicit drug use.

At the same time, Botticelli strongly argues against jailing people who are addicted to drugs. Instead, he recommends that they should be forced into treatment, as he was, which got him into recovery.

Oh, did I mention that Botticelli’s problematic substance was alcohol, but that he used both legal and illegal drugs in a controlled way, including marijuana, cocaine and—Obama’s bête noire—cigarettes?

So, like the President, the Drug Czar used illegal substances in a non-problematic way, opposes jailing drug-addicted people, yet wants drugs to remain illegal.

But what about people who use illicit drugs the way Obama and Botticelli did—moderately—and who aren’t addicted? What should happen to them?

To help us untangle the thicket of drug use at the White House, I have created a helpful table. The results may surprise you:

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 11.20.22 AM

 

First, how do I know these things?

The President, despite mentioning his drug use in his memoir, has generally been pretty guarded on this subject. However, the New York Times early in the 2008 presidential campaign conducted “three dozen interviews with friends, classmates and mentors from his high school and Occidental” about Obama’s youthful drug use.

His current drug use—other than his eschewing illicit substances, of course—is slightly thornier to decipher, as he doesn’t really detail his drinking or smoking. Those phenomena we have to deduce from stray comments he has made and observations by others.

Michael Botticelli, on the other hand, talks constantly about his past and current substance use. Indeed, his recovery is the basis for his selection as Drug Czar. Yet his narrative is actually rather surprising, its details often ignored.  I’ll also rely on his interview by the newspaper of record, The Times, titled: “Michael Botticelli Is a Drug Czar Who Knows Addiction Firsthand.”

Let’s run through the list of substances in “The Thicket.”

Marijuana and cocaine. Since the President has confessed to using these drugs, including marijuana regularly, we might wonder whether he is understating the degree of his previous use. But those who knew him paint a quite different portrait from someone with addiction, as reflected in the Times article’s title: “Old Friends Say Drugs Played Bit Part in Obama’s Young Life.”

The interviews revealed the President “as being grounded, motivated and poised, someone who did not appear to be grappling with any drug problems and seemed to dabble only with marijuana.” One friend described him “as a model of moderation — jogging in the morning, playing pickup basketball at the gym, hitting the books and socializing. If someone passed him a joint, he would take a drag. We’d smoke or have one extra beer, but he would not even do as much as other people on campus.”

And what about Botticelli? As he often relates, he was arrested for a drunk driving accident, passed out, awoke handcuffed to a bed in jail, was sentenced to four months of treatment, which in turn led him to recovery (he hasn’t had a drink in 26 years)—which he believes saved his life.

But Botticelli never had a drug problem, despite his having “used marijuana a few times, as well as cocaine, he said, ‘on a somewhat occasional basis.’”

Alcohol. Obviously, Botticelli’s problem was drinking. However, he only ever describes his one DUI accident, solely on the basis of which no legitimate diagnosis can be made.  For the president, alcohol seems to be a present part of his life, judging from his enjoyment of wine in Paris with world leaders like Putin and Hollande, cocktails with his wife when they (rarely) get to go out on “dates,” and even the beer he had at the “beer summit” with Professor Gates and the police officer who arrested him. It seems the President drinks appropriately and enjoys alcohol.

Opioids. Neither man reports having used narcotics recreationally, certainly addictively.  But whereas we might expect the President, as someone not in recovery, to use painkillers (thus my entry in the chart) if he should ever require them, Botticelli “refused a prescription for opioid painkillers after a significant medical procedure for fear they might awaken addictive behavior.”

Cigarettes. President Obama has obviously had a smoking problem that he has fought hard to overcome. From time to time, reports surface of the president sneaking a smoke.  But he has not relapsed to his former cigarette addiction.

Here’s a strange part of this story. Botticelli describes “his only synapse-soothing substance [as] being an occasional cigarette.” The recovering Drug Czar used pot and cocaine occasionally, is able to control his smoking (certainly among the most addictive substance habits available), and really doesn’t provide an in-depth description of his supposed alcoholism. Is the Czar really someone who demonstrates a predisposition to addiction? Or is he actually relatively resistant to it?

These two men critical to American drug policy decision-making both argue against ending drug prohibition—even though, according to our “Thicket” chart, they have each sampled a relatively wide variety of licit and illicit drugs, and the only substances that have caused either of them problems are legal ones.

Shouldn’t they instead be leading us in a re-examination of our national assumptions about “dangerous” drugs?


Stanton Peele is a columnist for The Influence. He has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover!: An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life. His website is Peele.net. Dr. Peele has won career achievement awards from the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies and the Drug Policy Alliance. You can follow him on Twitter: @speele5

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  • Flip3206

    So Mr. Peele, your reasoning is that because these two guys used cocaine without getting addicted to it that we should generalize that to the whole population? Let’s take your premise that some people can use cocaine for recreational purposes without becoming addicted. Should we let everyone who wants to use it just try it and see if they get addicted? Why is recreational drug use so damned important anyway? Are you saying that it is worth the addiction of many people in such a way that it will ruin their lives and the lives of others to make recreational use of drugs available to those who can handle them okay? I live in a university town, and there’s an awful lot of accidents and even one murder due to alcohol abuse alone, never mind the other available drugs. I had a next door neighbor who loved alcohol more than he loved having a job and a place to live, and he ended up homeless (again). I can’t help thinking that had he never been exposed to alcohol, he might still be married and living in his own home and not having trouble getting his children to talk to him. People get that way with cocaine and heroin too.

    I know people who can consume alcohol and even marijuana in moderation and have a good time without harming themselves or others. But they can have a good time without those drugs too. I just don’t see an upside to recreational drug use that outweighs the danger of addiction to drugs. There’s no way to tell if a person will become an addict until they become addicted, and people who have addictive tendencies are the LEAST adept at recognizing their own Achilles’s heel. Why mess with something you don’t need that could potentially ruin your life?

  • Knog Knebronson

    Dr. Peele, Regarding President Obama and Drug Czar Botticelli “the only substances that have caused either of them problems are legal ones.” Good point. The problems or bad consequences we bring onto ourselves from substances can be from licit or illicit substances. I believe the problem is not with the substance, but with the user and his inability to deal with life and the human conditions we all need to deal with and face. The quick and easy of a substance is seductive but only a temporary fix. If we ended the war on drugs and focused our resources on therapies based on legitimate diagnosis, I believe we could solve a lot of our individual and societal problems.

    Regarding the Botticelli DUI car wreck, supposedly passed out and he awoke handcuffed to a hospital bed, arrested and sentenced to 4 months of “treatment”, which I believe from his 60 minute interview, was a intensive indoctrination into A.A. and 12 step facilitation and his ongoing belief that his consequence of abuse of alcohol is alcoholism and a is lifelong sentence of a progressive disease. I wonder about the legitimacy of this diagnosis also. It has been my experience in similar situations and matters, is that the diagnosis is always “addiction and or alcoholism which are a disease” and the prescribed treatment is always the same, namely intensive indoctrination into A.A. and 12 step facilitation. Often this diagnosis is made by a intake counselor at a rehab, who probably never finds a person with other than addiction/alcoholism. Probably receives a commission and high compensation for filling the facility. Or some crony judge makes the diagonosis, where the fines and asset forfeiture influence, the need to feed the government bureaucracy, employees salaries, pensions and police overtime pay. Also the pressure from the district attorney, who won her election campaign by pledging to the public, for example: to be hard on DUI, or keep up the good fight on war on drugs, etc.

    The worst thing for my well being was being told & sold by the medical and psychiatric professions, that I was a alcoholic and had a progressive incurable disease, which can only be put into remission and controlled by total abstinence, lifelong A.A. and the working the never ending escalator of the 12 steps. I felt so debilitated, unempowered and defeated. Very counter productive to being healthy. Fortunately for me, I had an “Epiphany” and realized the bill of goods I had been sold. Today, I am out of A.A. I like being abstinent and don’t want to ingest anymore intoxicating toxins. Life is too short. I feel self-empowered & healthy. Dealing with the human conditions we all deal with in life. Namely, suffering & eventual death. Today, my aim is to be worthy of my suffering and deal with it with grace.
    Thank you,

    From Santa Rosa, CA, “Shadow of a doubt”

  • Knog Knebronson

    Dr. Peele, Regarding President Obama and Drug Czar Botticelli “the only substances that have caused either of them problems are legal ones.” Good point. The problems or bad consequences we bring onto ourselves from substance abuse(s) can be from licit or illicit substances. I believe the problem is not with the substance, but with the user and their behavior, inability to deal with life and the human conditions we all need to deal with, face and work through. The quick and easy fix of a substance is seductive but only a temporary fix. If we ended the war on drugs and focused our resources on therapies based on legitimate diagnosis, I believe we could solve a lot of our individual and societal problems.
    Regarding the Botticelli DUI car wreck, supposedly he passed out and he awoke handcuffed to a hospital bed, arrested and sentenced to 4 months of “treatment”, which I believe from his 60 minute interview, was a court mandated, intensive indoctrination into A.A. and 12 step facilitation. His ongoing belief that his consequences from alcohol abuse, is alcoholism and that it is lifelong sentence to a progressive disease. I agree with you and I wonder about the legitimacy of this diagnosis. It has been my experience in similar situations and matters, is that the diagnosis is always “addiction and or alcoholism and that I am suffering with a “disease”. The prescribed treatment is always the same. Namely, supposedly “supportive” group therapy, intensive indoctrination into A.A. and 12 step facilitation. Often this diagnosis is made by an intake counselor at a rehab, who I believe never finds a person with other than “the severe disease of addiction/alcoholism”. Most likely receives a commission and high compensation for filling the beds at the facility. Or some crony judge who makes the diagnosis without any medical basis, with the fines and asset forfeiture influence, the need to feed the government bureaucracy, his compensation, fellow employees’ salaries, pensions and police overtime pay. Also the pressure from their teammate, the district attorney, who won her election campaign by pledging to the public, for example: to be hard on DUI, or keep up the good fight on war on drugs, etc. The worst thing for my wellbeing was being told & sold by the medical and psychiatric professions, that I was an alcoholic and had a progressive incurable disease, which can only be put into remission and controlled by total abstinence, lifelong A.A. and the working the never ending escalator of the 12 steps. I felt so debilitated, unempowered and defeated. Very counterproductive to being healthy. Fortunately for me, I had an “epiphany” and realized after 25 of being a believer, that I was sold a bill of goods. Today, I am out of A.A. I like being abstinent, even though it is a condition of my DUI probation. I don’t want to ingest anymore intoxicating toxins. Life is too short. Maybe I’ve matured out of drinking? Anyway, I feel self-empowered, healthy with self-care. I am dealing with the human conditions and experiences we all deal with in life. Namely, suffering & eventual death. Today, my aim is to be worthy of my suffering and deal with it with grace.
    Thank you,
    From Santa Rosa, CA, “Shadow of a doubt”