President Obama: "I don't mind a debate around issues like decriminalization."


President Barack Obama further muddled his position on drug policy reform in an interview with Univision's Enrique Acevedo, saying, in the course of one response, both "I don't mind a debate around issues like decriminalization," and "I don't think that legalization of drugs is going to be the answer." 

EA:  Mr. President, this lively discussion on the issue of drug consumption, drug trafficking among the regional leadership seems to have caught American diplomacy a little off-guard. Many Latin American governments complain that the U.S. continues to filter drug trafficking by being the principle importer of these drugs. The Justice Department says there are over 20 million Americans using drugs. Do you think it's time to change this strategy in the war against drugs?

PBO:  I actually don't think it's taken us off guard. My first meeting with President Calderon, who obviously is engaged in a very courageous battle with narco-traffickers inside his own country, we had this discussion and I said that the United States has to be a partner in this process because it is true that we are a primary market for the drug trafficking that's taking place in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean, and that's why we've put billions of dollars since I've come into office into drug treatment programs, prevention programs, treating it as a public health issue so that we can lower demand. At that same time we've initiated unprecedented cooperation on the law enforcement side and obviously our efforts here in Colombia are an example of the progress that's been made when it comes to issues of citizen security — and the last part of this is what we've tried to do is make sure that security at our borders is not just a one-way street, that we are paying a lot of attention to arms that are flowing south, cash that's flowing south, because it's important that we take our responsibilities seriously and not just ask other countries to do their part. This is an enormous challenge and I don't mind a debate around issues like decriminalization. I personally don't agree that that's a solution to the problem, but I think that given the pressures that a lot of governments are under here, under-resourced, overwhelmed by violence, it's completely understandable that they would look for new approaches, and we want to cooperate with them. I don't think that legalization of drugs is going to be the answer.

Is the semantic distinction between Obama saying he doesn't think legalization is "going" to be the answer, as opposed to just saying "it's not the answer," a meaningful one? My guess is the president's remarks aren't a reflection of his own beliefs, or an impending policy change, but a public admission (hot on the tails of Vice President Joe Biden's) that Central American leaders are weighing the benefits of decriminalization.