A spokesman for Obama's campaign blamed confusion over the meaning of decriminalization for the inconsistencies, and said that while Obama does not support decriminalization, "we are sending far too many first-time, nonviolent drug users to prison for very long periods of time, and that we should rethink those laws."
It's true that decriminalization means different things to different people, but to equate it with opposition to mandatory minimum sentences distorts the concept beyond recognition. It's one thing to say decriminalization should be limited to simple possession of small quantities, or to say that it amounts to eliminating the possibility of arrest and jail, as opposed to repealing all penalties (i.e., the sort of "decriminalization" that has been adopted by 11 states). It's another to say that supporting decriminalization means thinking a crack dealer should serve one year instead of five. That certainly would be an improvement, and Obama should get credit for his willingness to go that far. But it defies belief to claim this was the sort of "decriminalization" he had in mind when he was running for the Senate and told students at Northwestern University "I think we need to…decriminalize our marijuana laws."
During the same appearance at Northwestern, Obama called the war on drugs "an utter failure" and said we need to "rethink" it, a position that makes him look decidedly better on this issue than Hillary Clinton. Assuming he still holds it.