Marijuana Reform Is Part of the Progressive Agenda, So Why Are Obama's Drug Cops Already Making Pot Raids?
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So is the new administration listening? Apparently, not yet.
In response to the Change.gov poll, the administration posted a curt, one-sentence response, "President Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana." The reply, though disappointing to some, was hardly unexpected. In 2004, Obama voiced support for decriminalizing pot (a policy that replaces criminal sanctions with the imposition of fines only), but fell short of endorsing legalization. (Although as a candidate for president, Obama renounced his support for decriminalization.)
Less expected, however, were the actions of the Justice Department last week when U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials raided the office of a California medical marijuana provider, as well as two medical grow houses in Colorado. (The possession of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in both states, and nonprofit organizations may legally dispense marijuana to authorized patients under California law.)
The busts outraged many drug-law-reform advocates, who were quick to point out that the new president had pledged on the campaign trail not to use Justice Department resources to circumvent state medical marijuana laws. Many news outlets also were quick to voice criticism toward the new administration for continuing with the federal raids, noting that these aggressive actions possess little to no public support.
Of course, it is not yet known whether Obama directly authorized the DEA raids. (Both the DOJ and the DEA are staffed, in large part, by holdovers from the Bush regime.) That said, there's also no indication that anyone at DOJ or DEA has been admonished for their behavior either. Obama's silence on the issue so far may be telling. It may also be politically detrimental.
Rather than ignore the public's calls for drug-policy reform, the new administration ought to be embracing it. After all, many of the same voters that put Barack Obama in the White House also voted by wide margins in November to liberalize marijuana laws in two states -- Michigan and Massachusetts -- and in nearly a dozen municipalities nationwide.
In fact, historically, marijuana-law reform has been a proven winner at the polls. Voters in 10 states and the District of Columbia have approved ballot measures legalizing the medical use of marijuana. (By contrast, only once -- in South Dakota in 2006 -- have voters rejected such a measure.)
Municipal ordinances mandating law enforcement to make the prosecution of minor pot offenses its "lowest priority" have enjoyed similar success -- passing in more than a dozen cities across the country, including Denver, Seattle, Oakland, Calif., Santa Barbara, Calif., Missoula, Mont., Colombia, Mo., and Fayetteville, Ark.
These results shouldn't be surprising. According to a national poll commissioned by CNN and Time magazine, 80 percent of Americans support the physician-supervised use of cannabis, and some 3 out of 4 say that adults should be fined, but not jailed, for using pot recreationally.
In short, marijuana-law reform should no longer be viewed by legislators as a political liability. It isn't. Instead, for the new administration and for 111th Congress, it is a political opportunity. The sooner our federally elected leaders recognize this fact, the sooner we, and they, can begin to undo the damage caused by America's longest and costliest war, the so-called war on drugs.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML and the NORML Foundation. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?, to be published in 2009 by Chelsea Green.