David Maraniss‘ forthcoming biography of President Obama reports that in high school and college, Obama not only inhaled, he was a rather intense user.
This quote from Penn Jillette is apropos:
Do we believe, even for a second, that if Obama had been busted for marijuana — under the laws that he condones — would his life have been better? If Obama had been caught with the marijuana that he says he uses, and ‘maybe a little blow’… if he had been busted under his laws, he would have done hard fucking time. And if he had done time in prison, time in federal prison, time for his ‘weed’ and ‘a little blow,’ he would not be President of the United States of America. He would not have gone to his fancy-ass college, he would not have sold books that sold millions and millions of copies and made millions and millions of dollars, he would not have a beautiful, smart wife, he would not have a great job. He would have been in fucking prison, and it’s not a god damn joke. People who smoke marijuana must be set free. It is insane to lock people up.
I would really like some reporter to ask Obama if he thinks it would have been for the best if young Barry Obama’s life had been derailed by a drug conviction.
Paul Waldman writes:
The reason, of course, is fear, the force that governs so many decisions politicians make. At the moment, there remains a strong incentive to support the status quo, lest you be targeted in your next race as some kind of hippie-lover. The incentives on the other side, on the other hand, are almost nil. When was the last time somebody lost a race for being too tough on drugs? The half of Americans who favor marijuana legalization are not an organized voting bloc that gets together to punish its opponents at the polls… it may be some time before we have a real debate—the kind with two sides—on this issue.
I think it also hurts that the people hurt least by the current system are well-off whites; marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced against young Black people. (Unsurprisingly, the history of marijuana prohibition is thoroughly intertwined with racism.)
Usually I think people are too quick to blame Obama for dreadful federal policy; the President is not a dictator, and very often Obama doesn’t actually have the power to unilaterally change policy.
In this case, however, I think anger at Obama is exactly right. First of all, for the hypocrisy Jillette points out. (Even worse than the hypocrisy, imo, is the utter lack of compassion).
Second of all, when Obama was running for president he promised to lighten up on the federal war on medical marijuana. It’s very reasonable to be angry with Obama for explicit promises broken.
And finally, Obama does have unilateral powers when it comes to medical marijuana.
Marijuana is categorized as schedule I, which means it legally has no accepted medical use. This is why medical marijuana, while legal under some state laws, is illegal under federal law.
However, the law explicitly gives the executive branch the power to change the scheduling of particular drugs without needing Congressional action. Obama can instruct the relevant agencies under him to take an honest look at the research and reschedule marijuana so it qualifies as having legitimate medical uses. The Obama administration could easily and justifiably move marijuana to, say, schedule III, which happens to be the same schedule that synthetic THC is in, making medical marijuana legal under federal law.
There would be nothing unusual, extraordinary or legally suspect about Obama doing this. The executive branch has often moved certain drugs to lower or higher schedules based on new data without Congressional involvement. In fact, multiple sitting governors have petitioned the Obama administration asking him to move marijuana to a lower schedule, so he should be aware of the flexible authority he has.
But why would Obama do that? Obama doesn’t believe that he’ll lose any significant number of votes because he has no compassion when it comes to marijuana issues, and that’s the bottom line.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do. After all, it’s not as if Mitt Romney is going to promote more compassionate policies, and Gary Johnson, while better on pot, is far worse than Obama on many other issues. Nor is there an effective pot lobby to support. In the long run, it’s possible that marijuana legalization will win through attrition, as those Americans who are most against pot, who tend to be older, die off. But in the short run, I can’t find much reason for hope that things will improve.