February 15, 2014
Washington D.C – While Colorado and Washington experiment with legal cannabis, journalists turn to President Barack Obama with the hopes he will support a change to federal cannabis laws. Those hopes continue to be dashed by a man who knows how to speak, but fails at changing policy.
There is a man sitting in the White House who was once a part of The Choom Gang; a group of friends who spent most of their free time getting baked. Making Cheech and Chong look like Mother Theresa, Barack Obama indulged in ounces upon ounces of cannabis as a young man. Instead of being thrown in jail like many in his generation, Obama became the most powerful man in the world.
In an interview with The New Yorker President Obama made note of his past pot use as, “a bad habit and a vice,” and argued that Americans should not languish in jail for doing something lawmakers have done in their youth. The quote that turned up the ears of marijuana activists was one where Obama revealed that he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. The problem with his assessment is that Obama has only talked the talk when it comes to changing marijuana laws. He speaks the occasional good game, while simultaneously doing nothing to walk the walk.
Marijuana activists who may have supported Obama were brought down to earth when it was revealed he is on pace to record the highest number of dispensary raids in history. Those numbers are 80% more than the Bush administration, averaging 36 arrests per year. His attack on dispensaries have violated state’s rights along with preventing sick people from obtaining the only medicine that gives them comfort, or treats their ailments.
In a Janurary 2014 interview with CNN’s Jack Tapper, Obama claimed it was Congress’ job to change the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic, even though the Controlled Substances Act allows for a president to override Congress by instructing his Attorney General to change the classification. Congress could be involved, but that is at the discretion of the president. Obama instructed Eric Holder to not take cases in defense of DOMA, but did not follow that game plan when it comes to respecting the rights of states to legalize medical marijuana.
Obama has had plenty of opportunities to change the direction of drug policy in the United States. Instead, he has only brought false hope to advocates by saying the occasional good word about cannabis. He has hinted at change, but refuses to do the dirty work even when his employees plant seeds in his head.
On CBS News, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy admitted, “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful. I think that we have to use that data to drive policy-making. I’m very interested to see where that data takes us.” The comments are refreshing in a sense that the top doctor in the U.S has finally admitted that marijuana has medicinal qualities, but when his boss embraces the same policies that deny people medicine, incarcerates millions, and ruins lives, Murthy is speaking to the deaf.
One day before Murthy’s interview, it was announced that the president is pouring more money into a failed drug policy that has done nothing but waste money and resources. In the release of his 2016 Fiscal Year Budget plan, Obama is asking for another $2 billion on top of the $27.6 billion used in 2014 to fight the drug war, and the majority of that money will go to law enforcement rather than for treatment.
The White House claimed their new drug policy is a, “21st century approach to drug policy that outlines innovative policies and programs and recognizes that substance use disorders are not just a criminal justice issue, but also a major public health concern.” If the administration really believed that they would have put the bulk of the funding into treatment, but when you have police departments thirsty for new toys, and various special interests raining down your neck, you feed the beast.
By making nice statements about cannabis while he is increasing funding for the drug war, and prosecuting Americans who consume marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes,Obama is hopping over the fence to play a game with both sides of the issue. When he does an interview and is asked about marijuana, Obama swims in low waters, but when he continues to walk down a road that has never lead anywhere, he does not show compromise, he shows cowardice.
Law and order Republicans march with Obama as he continues to play the same socially and economically damaging drug war game. The only difference between him and his predecessors is that he gives supporters of legal marijuana false hope. If you’re looking for a president to legalize cannabis you can’t depend on Obama. To change marijuana laws a president must be honest, brave and tough. None of those qualities are found inside of Barack Obama.