Late last week, a video circulated online showing Malia Obama, President Obama’s elder daughter, appearing to smoke something that may or may not have been a joint. Personally, I’m inclined to say it was just a normal cigarette, but sure, for the sake of argument, let’s say it was marijuana.
Seriously, who cares? She’s surrounded by well-armed and trained Secret Service agents whose whole job is to keep her safe. She’s 18 years old and headed to Harvard. Her own father has said he thinks smoking pot is an unhealthy waste of time, but ultimately not more dangerous than drinking alcohol.
President Barack Obama has smoked pot. So have Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. So have Supreme Court Justices. Corporate CEOs get high. Oprah has smoked. Martha Stewart can roll a joint. 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” came out almost 30 years ago.
Personally, I’ve never tried marijuana and doubt I would, even if I could be certain there’d be no legal consequences. But still, I think Rare Politics editor Jack Hunter is right in his argument that weed should (and sooner than later will) be socially similar to alcohol.
All that said, back to Malia. If there’s anything worth saying here, it’s twofold: First, that this story is newsworthy at all is just one more example of how we treat the president like a celebrity — and what a distraction that is from more serious policy considerations. I don’t care what the president (let alone his family) wears, vacations, smokes or listens to; I care about how he governs.
And second, how Malia’s dad has governed where marijuana is concerned has been overwhelmingly marked by hypocrisy and half-measures, as Anthony Fisher writes at Reason in reaction to this incident:
To its credit, the Obama administration has dialed back its earlier massive crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries and has shown little interest in interfering with states that allow for recreational use. But it remains disappointing that President Obama — who has written extensively about his own drug experimentation yet was able to attend elite universities and ascend to the highest ladder of public office only by the grace of not being arrested for a drug crime as a young man — continues to do nothing to end the immoral policy of marijuana prohibition.
Obama can’t legalize marijuana on a federal basis himself, Congress must do that. But the president has also tried to punt the issue of reclassifying marijuana to Congress, which he doesn’t need to do. According to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, the attorney general is empowered to “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”
The attorney general works for the president. The president could make this happen if he wanted to, and while it wouldn’t un-complicate the lives of so many young people who have already been denied federal student loans or jobs or housing because of misdemeanor drug convictions, rescheduling is an important step on the road to the decriminalization of marijuana.
The DEA’s latest decision against reclassifying marijuana was handed down the very same day the Malia Obama video went viral, a harsh irony for all the Americans who, unlike Malia, can’t count on on friends (or, in this case, family) in high places to keep a little juvenile experimentation from ruining their lives.
Indeed, as I’ve argued over at The Week, Obama has blown it on marijuana reform. Yes, he’s made some changes that deserve due applause. But it is telling that, as Fisher describes, Obama has not made legitimate use of his “pen and phone” to reschedule weed.
But hey, he still has a few months left in office. Maybe Malia still has time to change his mind.