Obama Nudges The Ball Forward on Marijuana

Jan 22, 2014

In an inter­view with the New Yorker released on Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Obama made per­haps the strongest endorse­ment by any sit­ting pres­i­dent on relaxed mar­i­juana laws. Pushed by inter­viewer David Rem­nick, Obama acknowl­edged that mar­i­juana is less dan­ger­ous than alco­hol in its effect on con­sumers. He also noted the obvi­ous racial and eco­nomic dis­par­i­ties in enforce­ment of mar­i­juana laws. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smok­ing pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the sup­port to avoid unduly harsh penal­ties.” A fully bud­ded mar­i­juana plant ready for trim­ming is seen at the Botanacare mar­i­juana store ahead of their grand open­ing on New Year’s day in North­glenn, Col­orado, in this Decem­ber 31, 2013 file photo. The Dis­trict of Colum­bia will take a step closer toward decrim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana on Jan­u­ary 15, 2014 with a move that will make smok­ing a joint in the U.S. cap­i­tal a vio­la­tion com­pa­ra­ble to a park­ing ticket. In fact, the pres­i­dent back­hand­edly came close to endors­ing out­right legal­iza­tion of the drug for recre­ational pur­poses, by offer­ing a mod­i­fied endorse­ment of new laws in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton that do exactly that: Accord­ingly, he said of the legal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton that “it’s impor­tant for it to go for­ward because it’s impor­tant for soci­ety not to have a sit­u­a­tion in which a large por­tion of peo­ple have at one time or another bro­ken the law and only a select few get pun­ished.” Obama cir­cled back around and noted the new laws in both states could be “a chal­lenge” because of the poten­tial for legal­iza­tion of other, harder types of drugs. He also noted he has advised his daugh­ters not to smoke mar­i­juana. So it wasn’t an out­right endorse­ment. But the moment was still sig­nif­i­cant in sev­eral ways. In con­text of the United States’ long-running and highly prob­lem­atic war on drugs, it is quite notable to have a pres­i­dent come out and say that mar­i­juana isn’t nearly as harm­ful as it is often made out to be and to back seri­ous changes in the legal régime gov­ern­ing the drug. Obama is cor­rect about the racial dis­par­i­ties at work here: The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union issued a report last year find­ing that African Amer­i­cans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for mar­i­juana, despite sim­i­lar rates of use. The White House’s record is some­what check­ered on this issue. On the one hand, early in Obama’s time in office, his admin­is­tra­tion stepped up fed­eral crack­downs on mar­i­juana pro­duc­ers sanc­tioned by state law, a move that was highly crit­i­cized by reform­ers. How­ever, Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder recently took steps to relax fed­eral pros­e­cu­tion of mar­i­juana offenses and said the Jus­tice Depart­ment won’t chal­lenge new state laws on mar­i­juana. Obama’s com­ments may reflect a real evo­lu­tion in his approach to drug pol­icy, and one that may have long-lasting effects. But there is, of course, also a polit­i­cal angle here. Whether he meant to or not, Obama was posi­tion­ing him­self and his party on the cor­rect side of an issue that many Democ­rats feel could reap seri­ous polit­i­cal rewards in the com­ing months and years. For exam­ple, in Florida, strate­gists on both sides of the guber­na­to­r­ial race there believe a statewide ref­er­en­dum to legal­ize some mar­i­juana use could tilt the con­test to Democ­rats. Repub­li­cans have filed a legal chal­lenge to keep it off the bal­lot, because they openly admit it may bring young peo­ple and minori­ties — tra­di­tional Demo­c­ra­tic vot­ers — to the polls in unusu­ally high num­bers. “It’s an issue that the Democ­rats can use to pump up the youth vote,” Alex Pat­ton, a Repub­li­can polit­i­cal con­sul­tant told Bloomberg Busi­ness­week. “The pol­i­tics of it are dan­ger­ous for the GOP.” And Florida isn’t the only place mar­i­juana will be on the bal­lot this year. At least four other states will put the issue before vot­ers, and peo­ple out­side those areas are no doubt fol­low­ing the evolv­ing debate closely. Polls have shown recent spikes in sup­port for legal­ized mar­i­juana. Gallup found 58 per­cent of Amer­i­cans favor legal­iza­tion, and other sur­veys show majori­ties also share Obama’s view that the drug is not phys­i­cally or men­tally harm­ful. I have no idea if Obama’s remarks were a cal­cu­lated move, but his party’s prospects this fall seem likely to improve as a result. Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Author: George Zor­nick Pub­lished: Jan­u­ary 20, 2014 Copy­right: 2014 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.wash​ing​ton​post​.com/

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Obama Nudges The Ball For­ward on Marijuana

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