Optimism That Obama Will Support Decriminialization of Marijuana

A few days ago I wrote about fears that Obama might be backtracking on his previous comments opposing the drug war. Some Obama supporters remain optimistic that he will eventually back decriminalization of marijuana, even if not until a second term. Esquire writes on this optimism:

In July, Obama told Rolling Stone that he believed in “shifting the paradigm” to a public-health approach: “I would start with nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. The notion that we are imposing felonies on them or sending them to prison, where they are getting advanced degrees in criminality, instead of thinking about ways like drug courts that can get them back on track in their lives — it’s expensive, it’s counterproductive, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, economists have been making the beer argument. In a paper titled “Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” Dr. Jeffrey Miron of Harvard argues that legalized marijuana would generate between $10 and $14 billion in savings and taxes every year — conclusions endorsed by 300 top economists, including Milton “Free Market” Friedman himself.

And two weeks ago, when the Obama team asked the public to vote on the top problems facing America, this was the public’s No. 1 question: “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 a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”

But alas, the answer from Camp Obama was — as it has been for years — a flat one-liner: “President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.” And at least two of Obama’s top people are drug-war supporters: Rahm Emanuel has been a long-time enemy of reform, and Joe Biden is a drug-war mainstay who helped create the position of “drug czar.”

Meanwhile, in 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, 782,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes (90 percent of them for possession), with approximately 60,000 to 85,000 of them serving sentences in jail or prison. It’s the continuation of an unnecessary stream of suffering that now has taught generations of Americans just how capricious their government can be. The irony is that the preference for “decriminalization” over legalization actually supports the continued existence of criminal drug mafias.

Nevertheless, the marijuana community is guardedly optimistic. “Reformers will probably be disappointed that Obama is not going to go as far as they want, but we’re probably not going to continue this mindless path of prohibition,” NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre tells me.

Some of Obama’s biggest financial donors are friends of the legalization movement, St. Pierre notes. “Frankly, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling — this triumvirate of billionaires — if those three men, who put up $50 to $60 million to get Democrats and Obama elected, can’t pick up the phone and actually get a one-to-one meeting on where this drug policy is going, then maybe it’s true that when you give money, you don’t expect favors.”

Another member of that moneyed group: Marsha Rosenbaum, the former head of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, who quit last year to become a fundraiser for Obama and “bundled” an impressive $204,000 for his campaign. She said that based on what she hears from inside the transition team, she expects Obama to play it very safe. “He said at one point that he’s not going to use any political capital with this — that’s a concern,” Rosenbaum tells me. And the Path to Change will probably have to pass through the Valley of Studies and Reports. “I’m hoping that what the administration will do,” she says, “is something this country hasn’t done since 1971, which is to undertake a presidential commission to look at drug policy, convene a group of blue-ribbon experts to look at the issue, and make recommendations.”

But ultimately, Rosenbaum remains confident that those recommendations would call for an end to the drug war. “Once everything settles down in the second term, we have a shot at seeing some real reform.”

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  1. 1
    Fritz says:

    So the idea is “I won’t do anything to end the madness for the next four years but if I’m re-elected after that maybe I will take some action”?  That is what passes for guarded optimism these days, I guess.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    It’s not that he won’t do anything to end the madness. I just fear he won’t do enough. He is still expected to bring about some improvement such as ending the DEA raids on users of medical marijuana. He has also talked about sentencing reform. Shorter sentences for things which shouldn’t receive any sentence isn’t enough, but is an improvement over the Republican years.

  3. 3
    Fritz says:

    I’m not going to argue that McCain was not worse — he was, clearly.  But Obama’s terse “We do not support legalization” in response to the question, without even any mention of any policy change, and his appointment of fervent drug warriors to his cabinet, is not a cause for optimism.

    Obama has stated plainly that the issue of sanity in drug policy is worth no political capital to him.  It will be interesting to see whether people in the Democratic Party who want such sanity have the power (and the willingness to use it) to persuade President Obama to change his mind and expend some.  My money is on “No, they do not”.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Politically Obama is right. Changing drug policy is not a politically popular course and I wouldn’t expect him to devote his political capital on this.

    It is rather premature to judge Obama’s record on drug policy before he has even taken office.

  5. 5
    ChinchillaJew says:

    Amsterdam in the States, oh boy! Marlboro Kine and Newport Haze here we come baby!!!!!!

  6. 6
    buy grow lights says:

    I hope he sticks to his guns but I do see him flip flopping on many issues so who knows. I can hope.

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