Marijuana and Cannabis News
|Photo: The White House|
|President Obama: "I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate"|
President Barack Obama on Thursday called drug legalization "an entirely legitimate topic for debate," but quickly added "I am not in favor of legalization."
The President then went on to say that he sees "drug abuse" as a public health issue and that a shifting of resources is required, away from the traditional approach of incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders.
Obama's remarks are the first time in history that a U.S. president has called drug legalization a topic "worthy of debate."
The president made the remarks during the YouTube-hosted "Your Interview With the President," for which at least the top 100 vote-getting questions dealt with marijuana laws or drug policy.
It was evident that Obama had heard the chorus of protest which greeted his last response to YouTube viewers on marijuana legalization, in which he had laughed off the issue and dismissively said "I don't know what that says about our online audience."
Many activists had expected the president would continue his practice of blithely ignoring the marijuana policy questions, despite their overwhelming and enduring popularity with the very demographic which voted him into office.
"The President talks a good game about shifting resources and having a balanced, public health-oriented approach, but it doesn't square with the budgets he's submitted to Congress," said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of cops, judges, and prosecutors who support legalizing and regulating drugs.
|Officer MacKenzie Allen: "The so-called War On Drugs has been waged for 40 years at a cost of a trillion dollars and thousands of lives, with nothing to show for it"|
Obama responded to the question of retired former deputy sheriff MacKenzie Allen, who is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
Allen's question was the number one vote getter among the tens of thousands of questions submitted for consideration, getting more than twice as many votes as the second most popular question.
According to YouTube, 196,032 people submitted 142,756 questions and cast 1,382,692 votes.
"The so-called War On Drugs has been waged for 40 years at a cost of a trillion dollars and thousands of lives, with nothing to show for it but increased supplies of cheaper drugs and a dramatic increase in violence associated with the underworld drug market," Officer Allen says in his video. "Do you think there will or should come a time to discuss the possibility of legalization, regulation and control of all drugs, thereby doing away with the violent criminal market as well as a major source of funding for international terrorism?"
President Obama made a point of taking Allen's question seriously, and responding to it as such.
"I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate," President Obama said. "I am not in favor of legalization."
"I am a strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem," Obama said. "When you think about other damaging activities in our society -- smoking, drunk driving, making sure you're wearing seat belts -- typically we've made huge strides over the last 20 or 30 years by changing people's attitudes."
But even as he glossed over the question, the President left room for hope that he is open to a more effective approach to drugs than locking users up and throwing away the key.
"On drugs we've been so focused on arrests, interdiction and incarceration that we don't spend much time thinking about how we shrink demand," Obama said. "Some of this requires shifting our focus."
"There are ways that we can shrink demand," Obama said. "In some cities, for example, it may take six months for you to get into a drug treatment program. If you're trying to kick the habit and somebody says come back in six months, that's pretty discouraging."
"We also need to look at what we're doing with nonviolent first time drug offenders," the President said. "Are there ways we can make sure we're steering the straight and narrow without automatically resorting to incarceration."
"These are all issues worth exploring, and are worth serious debate," Obama said.
"The Obama Administration has maintained the Bush era two-to-one budget ratio in favor of prisons and prosecution over treatment and prevention," LEAP's Franklin said. "It doesn't add up."
"Still, it's historic that the President of the United States is finally saying that legalizing and regulating drugs is a topic worthy of discussion," Franklin said. "But since the President remains opposed to legalization, it's clear that the people are going to have to lead the way."
"Police officers and innocent civilians are dying every single day in the Drug War," Franklin said. "It's not a back-burner issue."
The Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy issued a joint statement statement Thursday about the Q&A session.
"We are encouraged by the grassroots response bubbling up around this issue and urge President Obama to address this issue seriously and thoroughly," the statement said. "The American people want to know why our country is continuing the failed, catastrophic policy of drug prohibition."