“When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently - that was the point” – Sen. Barack Obama.
With Illinois Senator Barack Obama racking up big wins in the Democratic primaries and caucuses lately, there has been more scrutiny about his views on marijuana reform. In 2004, he had stated that he supported the decriminalization of marijuana. He has backed off of that position recently (as detailed on the Stash last week and at Drug War Chronicle and CelebStoner.com), but I see that as just political posturing. Given that he’s admitted his past use of marijuana and cocaine in his youth, perhaps Obama knows that he needs to protect himself from what could be a political liability — appearing to be “soft on drugs”.
Yet I think the success of the Obama campaign, in light of his honesty about marijuana use, shows that our society may finally be ready to enact meaningful reform of marijuana laws. You need only think back to Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” from the 1990s and Judge Ginsberg’s doomed Supreme Court nomination from the 1980s to see the progress being made. Now you can be a serious candidate for political office even if you are one of the 90 million or so that have tried marijuana! And you don’t even have to elaborately parse your marijuana experiences into a nonsensical rationalization (“I didn’t inhale”? Please. He was a sax-playing longhaired college kid studying abroad in the late 1960s!), you can be honest even if you “inhaled frequently”.
I’d prefer that Obama could stand by his 2004 call for decrim, but with the pressing issues of this election like the Iraq occupation and our floundering economy, I can understand how he wouldn’t want to be distracted and vulnerable to attacks on drug policy, which, while important to us, isn’t an issue that he’d want sidetracking his campaign.
Just the fact that he can be honest about his marijuana use is a positive step. To have a president who was honest about marijuana and can understand what marijuana and the people who use it are really like will certainly be an improvement over the current administration.
Plus, I don’t think an Obama Administration would surprise us like the Clinton Administration did by ratcheting up the War on Marijuana and setting records for annual marijuana arrests. It seemed like Bill Clinton’s administration tried to counter a “soft on drugs” image by locking people up. Clinton put himself in that corner by sheepishly deflecting questions about his use, implying that marijuana use was something to be ashamed of, something to deny. Obama’s openness leads me to believe that he wouldn’t feel the same pressure to be “tough on drugs”. Also, I think his background as an African-American man may make him more sensitive to the injustices of the War on Marijuana.
Only time will tell, and he hasn’t gotten the nomination yet. But I am hopeful about finally seeing some meaningful change in marijuana policy at the federal level.