Many marijuana smokers were thrilled when Barack Obama became president since he’d previously "outed" himself in his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father. In his memoir, Obama acknowledges that he and his friends in the "Choom Gang" were regular marijuana smokers during his high school years in Hawaii, a practice he apparently continued while attending Occidental College in LA for two years followed by two years at Columbia University in New York.
This was further confirmed by David Maraniss’ in his 2012 biography titled Barack Obama: The Story, which provided more details and suggested that Obama had been a serious pothead during his youth, favoring local Hawaii strains such as Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, and Kona Gold; none of which apparently limited his ability to excel academically, as he was subsequently President of the Harvard Law Review in 1991.
Many of those same smokers became disillusioned when President Obama did nothing to advance legalization during his first term, and on the occasion when the topic was raised by a White House petition or otherwise, he refused to treat marijuana legalization as a serious policy topic, instead making jokes about what all those petition signers must have been smoking – deflecting a question on a hot-button social issue, but it also felt insulting to those of us who smoke.
Perhaps because I have lived in Washington, DC for 48 years and have seen too many administrations come and go, I did not expect Obama to do anything significant to advance marijuana legalization during his first term. Controversial policy changes generally come, if at all, during a president’s second term, when he faces no future elections, and is sometimes willing to risk some of his personal popularity to embrace a policy on principle.
That appears to be precisely what has occurred with Obama.
Earlier today, 18 members of Congress signed onto a letter that was delivered to President Barack Obama calling for him to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
“We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana. Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws,” the letter reads, “Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.”
The letter was signed by Representatives Blumenauer (OR), Cohen (TN), Farr (CA), Grijalva (AZ), Honda (CA), Huffman (CA), Lee (CA), Lofgren (CA), Lowenthal (CA), McGovern (MA), Moran (VA), O’Rourke (TX), Polis (CO), Quigley (IL), Rohrabacher (CA), Schakowsky (IL), Swalwell (CA), and Welch (VT).
“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana,” the letter continued, “A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code. We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II.”
You can read the full text of the letter here.
In a profile published online over the weekend in New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama continued his softening towards marijuana legalization. In the interview, the president alluded to his own youthful marijuana consumption and clarified that, while he doesn’t believe it to be a healthy pastime and has discouraged his daughters from its use, it is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. President Obama also stated that current moves towards legalization are important experiments that can help end discriminatory arrest practices.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” President Obama stated when asked about the growing public support for ending marijuana prohibition.
When asked to clarify if he thought it was “less dangerous,” Obama replied that he thought it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” He continued that “it’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do 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.” he stated, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
“It’s important for it [marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington] 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.”
You can read the full article on the New Yorker’s website here.
Perhaps President Obama will continue to evolve and find himself on the right side of history when it comes to marijuana legalization. It would take just one simple Executive Order to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and help institute some real lasting change in our nation’s failed war on cannabis. At a minimum, these statements show just how far we have come from the “Just Say No” era of American politics.
Our friends at High Times scored a really provocative and informative interview with Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, where Mr. Fox demonstrates both a wide range of knowledge about the need for countries like America and Mexico to end cannabis prohibition and forward-looking vision about the need for regulation and tax laws similar to alcohol products.
Mr. Obama and company, when your own Partnership for a Drug-Free [sic] America is left little-to-do but inane surveys indicating that American parents do not want cannabis marketed to their children when it is legal and the former president of the country where America’s failed war on some drugs has caused the most social upheaval, street violence, political and law enforcement corruption…maybe you should start listening and acting upon their recommendations.
The so-called Partnership for a Drug-Free [sic] America (PDFA) has been a prolific, yet impotent, anti-marijuana propaganda machine since its inception in the mid 1980’s under President Ronald ‘Just Say No’ Reagan. No other quasi governmental or private entity spent more money or had greater access to mainstream media to try to perpetuate the federal government’s failed cannabis prohibition. Only the now unpopular and underfunded DARE program rivaled PDFA in it’s high visibility efforts to maintain support among the American populace for cannabis prohibition–but was equally feckless–wasting billions in taxpayer dollars and not impacting youth drug use rates.
Both DARE and PDFA were largely ignored and underfunded by the George W. Bush Administration from 2000-2008, with the current administration continuing to follow suit by diminishing the size and scope of both’s finances and public reach.
After the PDFA released a new survey today, with media outlets starting to contact NORML for commentary, only then did it become clear to me that the beginning of the end is die in the cast for PDFA when they chose to put out a survey that in effect says ‘marijuana legalization is coming, but only for adults’.
Really?! PDFA needed to waste even more funding and bandwidth informing the public that support for cannabis legalization for adults is at an all time high, but that parents surveyed don’t think the herbal drug should be legalized for youth or marketed to children.
Gee. Was there anybody in America advocating that children should be able to legally buy and use cannabis products?
While the PFDA’s most recent survey seeks to create a political red herring about children and cannabis, the survey affirms the now obvious in American life: public support for continuing cannabis prohibition is at an all time low and tax-n-regulating cannabis is an alternative public policy that now enjoys majority support.
After watching and archiving hundreds of anti-cannabis propaganda commercials from the PDFA going back to the late 1980s, reading this new survey acknowledging 1) Legalization is quickly picking up public and political support in America, 2) Americans want a sensible cannabis policy, where, like with alcohol products, only adults have legal and controlled access and 3) Parents have concerns about potential cannabis advertisements in mass media demonstrates to me that another major socio-political ‘tea leaf” has revealed itself with the PDFA now left to propagandize about if and how legal cannabis will marketed, not whether cannabis is an inherently ‘evil’ drug that will forever be prohibited.
With even the hardcore anti-cannabis folks at PDFA now recognizing the changing attitudes about cannabis in favor of legalization, when will Congress and the White House finally embrace this political reality too?