Obama and Drug Policy

NORML provides an unfortunate progression in Barack Obama’s statements on drugs:

“The war on drugs has been an utter failure. … (W)e need to rethink and decriminalize our (nation’s) marijuana laws.”
-Barack Obama, January 2004 (Watch the video here.)

“I inhaled frequently, that was the point.”
-Barack Obama, November 2006 (Watch the video here.)

Q: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”

A: “President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.”
-Statement from Change.gov, the official website of President-Elect Obama, December 15, 2008

I’m not at all surprised that Barack Obama is not publicly coming out in favor of legalization of marijuana at this time. What is said now and what happens over the next four or eight years is a different matter. It is premature for titles such as the one at Talk Left which reads Another Change You Won’t See From Obama. He hasn’t even taken office yet. It is too early to say with certainty which changes we will see.

Most likely we will not see legalization of marijuana and a total end to the drug war in the next eight years, but a brief denial of interest in such a controversial subject at this time can not be taken an absolute prediction of what will happen. More importantly we are likely to see more progress in reforming drug policy than we would see if Hillary Clinton had received the nomination, and see a considerable improvement over the status quo.

After the selection above, NORML also quotes Obama on medical marijuana:

In fact, Obama essentially said as much earlier this year when asked about the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Obama: “When it comes to medical marijuana, … my attitude is if it is an issue of doctors prescribing marijuana, … I think that should be appropriate. … Whether I want to use a whole lot of political capital on (this) issue; the likelihood of that being real high on my priority list is not likely.” (Watch the video here.)

This is not going to be overly exciting to those who rank legalization of marijuana as a top issue, but this leaves open a far greater chance of at least seeing legalization of medical marijuana than under the Republicans. At least we are likely to see an end to the type of insanity I reported here and here.

Under the Bush administration the federal government has ignored Republican principles of federalism by using the DEA to take action against those using medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. Obama was the strongest opponent of this policy of the major candidates this year. Last year I linked to videos showing the major Republican candidates dodging the question or outright supporting continuation of the raids on marijuana clinics and arrests of patients.

While the greatest differences between the candidates was between the major Democratic and Republican candidates, there were also significant differences between Obama and Clinton on drug policy. For example, Obama has supported needle exchange programs while Clinton has been opposed. They also differed on the drug war with Obama supporting sentencing reform which Clinton opposed.

It is disappointing that Obama is not going further on drug policy, but he is also the best candidate we were likely to see elected. We will still need to push Obama on this issue. It is understandable that this is not at the top of his priority list, but he is sympathetic to scaling back the drug war and making real changes. There is also hope that once his presidency is more firmly established he might be willing to go even further than he is at present.

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