On marijuana, Obama is a huge hypocrite

On Monday, VICE News posted an interview with Barack Obama during which, among other issues, the president discussed the war on drugs and the prospect of marijuana legalization.

A majority of Americans support pot legalization. Three states now allow recreational pot, and some 23 states (plus D.C.) permit its medical use.

Obama knows about marijuana. Other presidents have tried illicit drugs, but 2007 Obama sold himself as someone witty and insightful enough to say “yes, I inhaled, that was the point.” He changed his tune during the next several years, frequently dismissing the issue, or sidestepping it with tired Cheech and Chong-style jokes.

This kind of cowardice makes it morally reprehensible for Obama to oversee the status quo war on drugs as he has done. (And this has included extra efforts, such as staging narcotics raids in states where it’s legal and appointing a Bush-era hardliner to head the Drug Enforcement Administration.)

Obama and his Department of Justice have slowly softened on drug policy in the last year or so. Obama also — finally — managed to get moving on pardons and clemency, after being incredibly miserly with that presidential privilege. Yet he hasn’t ever pushed on criminal justice issues. And the VICE interview shows that he still can’t be honest about the issue.

America is getting it — slowly. They know the multi-billion dollar, multi-decade, losing campaign against drugs has not eliminated illicit narcotics. Instead it’s had dire consequences for the Fourth Amendment, and been a boon for the prison industry and police departments looking for military cast-offs.

Yet Obama in his deep arrogance dismisses this, telling VICE co-founder Shane Smith, “First of all, [marijuana] shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority.”

Goodness, thanks, Mr. President! The kids, it seems, “should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”

Ah, marijuana. It all comes down to those car-azy potheads. Not that a useful type of medicine is kept away from people. Not that civil asset forfeiture incentivizes prioritizing drug crimes instead of real ones. Not that the prison population is at 1.5 million (plus some 700,000 people in jail), when it was 300,000 three decades ago.

Thanks, Mr. President, for downplaying this issue so heartily ten minutes after you whined about cynical people staying home on Election Day.

Would Obama still feel the same way if he and his Choom Gang has been caught and put in prison? Or even just been caught and given a record that would mean he never breezed through the corridors of American power? Young people support marijuana legalization. Obama wants them to care about politics. Fine. He doesn’t get to pick the issue they latch onto.

To his credit, Obama admits that the criminal justice system focuses too much on nonviolent drug offenders. However, Democrats are changing on criminal justice policy, and even “the libertarian wing of the Republican party” is interested in reform. Goodness. Even them. Imagine.

Obama cheers this progress. Except that he thinks “legalization or decriminalization is not a panacea” because then we have to wring our hands over the harder drugs question.

The president really wants to play every side of this issue. He is the worried advocate for the black communities who (really did) suffer the brunt of the war on drugs. “Locking people up for 20 years probably is not the best strategy,” he notes correctly. Yet some people, especially “vulnerable” ones, he says, need to be protected from drugs.

Marijuana isn’t important, but criminal justice reform is? Sorry, Mr. President, they were tied intimately together back before you inhaled for the first time. Half the federal prison population is there because of drug crimes. You cannot separate that, no matter how hard you try.

Worst of all, Obama refuses to accept his power. He says that if other states legalize marijuana, then Congress could change its classification. Never mind that this man has never once been shy about his use of executive might. Obama has a kill list that can and has included Americans. He clearly feels magnanimous when he bothers to ask Congress for permission to fight a war that he has already begun. He sneaks in record-breaking numbers of executive memoranda on gun control, emissions, and various other issues.

But not here. Not on drugs. Never mind that he can direct the DOJ to reschedule marijuana, or that he could conceivably institute mass pardons.

Obama likes to play savior. But he refuses to expend any of his political capital on helping people whose only crime was using and selling the drug that he once enjoyed.

Lucy Steigerwald is a Pittsburgh-based blogger, journalist and commentator. She’s a contributing editor and columnist for, has written columns for VICE and Playboy. Follow her on Twitter @LucyStag
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