It's "Counterproductive" to Treat Drug Use as a Criminal Problem, Obama Says

President Barack Obama continues to speak out against mass incarceration, the devastating impact of our drug policies on communities of color and his expectation that marijuana legalization will continue to spread.

Obama's comments came yesterday during his YouTube interviews with YouTube bloggers, Bethany Mota, GloZell Green, and Hank Green.

Some Obama nuggets from yesterday's interview include this on marijuana:

"What you're seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they're experimenting with legal marijuana," the president said in response to a question from host Hank Green. "The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we're not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you're gonna see other states start looking at this."

Obama also addressed how we should treat people who are not violent drug offenders.

"What I am doing at the federal level," Obama responded, "is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating nonviolent drug offenders, because I think you're right. What we have done is instead of focusing on treatment -- the same way we focused, say, with tobacco or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as public health problem -- we've treated this exclusively as a criminal problem," the president said. "I think that it's been counterproductive, and it's been devastating in a lot of minority communities. It presents the possibility at least of unequal application of the law, and that has to be changed."

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have repeatedly spoken out against the drug war and mass incarceration. Back last January President Obama made national news with an interview with the New Yorker. "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," Obama told David Remnick.

The president expressed concern about disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," Obama said, adding that individual users shouldn't be locked up "for long stretches of jail time."

President Obama's moves coincide with Attorney General Eric Holder actions. They include:

• Calling on policymakers at all levels to find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars.
• Supporting efforts in Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce punitive sentencing.
• Supporting policies that made the sentences of thousands of prisoners shorter and fairer.
• Changing how the Justice Department charges people to reduce the application of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing.
• Establishing guidance allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana with less federal interference.
• Establishing guidance to make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
• Promoting efforts to re-integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and eliminate barriers to successful re-entry.
• Working to end the "school-to-prison pipeline", including working with the Departments of Education to scale back "zero tolerance" school discipline policies.
• Advocating for the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.
• Urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of a heroin overdose with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

Let's hope that President Obama goes out swinging and helps end our nation's longest, failed war.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.