Open for Questions: Response | Change.gov: The Obama-Biden Transition Team
Q: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?” S. Man, Denton
A: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.
Look*, did you think the answer to that question was going to be, “Yes! Indeed, on his first day in office, President-elect Obama will sign an executive order immediately legalizing the use and cultivation of cannabis in the United States.”
Those of us who know the growing truth about cannabis see this as such a no-brainer. It can be very frustrating when people you trust to be fair, honest, open-minded, compassionate, and just dismiss the issue out of hand. There wasn’t even any explanation. Just “No.” No acknowledgement of the economic benefits and social controls raised by the question. To us, it’s as if we’d asked, “Feeding puppies into wood chippers is a ghastly way of dealing with canine overpopulation – would you consider ending this barbaric practice?” and the head of the dog shelter just said “No.”
But that’s not the way most people see the cannabis issue. If Barack Obama had said he was in favor of marijuana legalization, to them it would be as shocking as the puppies in the wood chipper. I keep trying to remind reformers that yes, the truth is on our side, but truth has very little to do with politics. Emotions, identities, and culture do. (Oh, and money, gobs and gobs of money.) We are still a “them” and a “those people” to most of America, there is still a lot of hate and fear of us, and our culture is still considered “counter-”. It’s not the truth, for we are actually as diverse as America, but again, it’s the political reality that matters. So if a president-elect came out and said he was for legalization, he gains very little benefit from our political support and he’d pay a huge political price from even a majority of his own party. (He also probably surmises that stoners with broadband can make a huge splash in an online poll, but aren’t so good translating that to popular real-world support.)
In other words, we gave him a question impossible to say “yes” to, even if he is sympathetic to the premise.
The question I’m waiting for an answer to is actually farther down the list. Question #7:
“13 states have compassionate use programs for medical Marijuana, yet the federal gov’t continues to prosecute sick and dying people. Isn’t it time for the federal gov’t to step out of the way and let doctors and families decide what is appropriate?”
This is a better question because he was asked this in the primaries and he supported ending DEA raids on medical marijuana states. He cannot politically favor this, especially following Michigan’s vote, and because it makes him look cruel. He can answer this one without a direct “yes” that makes him look like he supports California “pot shops” to the detractors. He can give a nuanced, “Look, I believe that federal law enforcement resources are better utilized protecting America from terrorists than to get involved in the personal medical decisions between doctors and patients where states have decided that that is a reasonable treatment with strong controls and guidance from a physician.” Or something like that.
Now, if you want to get “radical”, here’s the question I would ask President-elect Obama:
“Young black men are arrested at five times the rate of young white men and incarcerated at thirteen times the rate of young white men for drug-related charges. You were candid about your use of marijuana and cocaine as a young black man. Do you support the arrest and incarceration of the next potential Barack Obama for mistakes you made in your youth?”
That’s probably going to kill my chances for a White House press pass, huh?
* If I may borrow Mr. Obama’s favorite opening word. Starting sentences with “Look,” is going to be the Obama version of Ronald Reagan’s “Well,” for legions of hack impersonators for years to come. Mark my words.