Drug Policy

Yes We Cannabis!: Obama's Best Shot at a Legacy is Ending the War on Pot


You're a second-term president and your health-care plan is imploding, your economic policies have come a cropper, and your overseas adventures are anything but sucessful.

Oh yeah, and you've seen your support among younger voters and civil libertarians plummet in the wake of all sorts of revelations about government snooping (which you signed off on).

But there is one thing that Barack Obama could do to salvage what is shaping up to be the worst two-term presidency since…George W. Bush's:

Declare a swift and honorable peace in the decades-long war on pot. The drug war in toto has been a long-running and ineffective disaster that disrespects individual autonomy, corrupts law enforcement, and undermines the rule of law. By ending the war on pot, he would be remembered as a true visionary.

It wouldn't be hard. Focus on the issues of fairness and basic common sense that already have fully 58 percent of Americans in favor of legalization….

If Obama announced that he was de-prioritizing the federal government's war on pot—not even on all drugs, but just marijuana—he would almost certainly be joined by a growing number of libertarian Republicans who think drug policy is a state-level issue. Indeed, if Obama framed the issue explicitly in federalist terms, he could likely count on the support of characters such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan….

If Obama really thinks pot is no more dangerous than alcohol and that the war on pot systematically screws over minorities, why should he have any hesitation in liberalizing the federal policies over which he has control? And using the bully pulpit to push for broader legislative change at the federal and state level? What is he waiting for, a third term?

That's from my latest column for The Daily Beast. Read the whole thing.


NEXT: Obama To Meet With Pope Francis

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  1. So ending the war on cannabis would “salvage” the destruction wrought by Obamacare? Agree to disagree, I guess.

    1. It wouldn’t salvage it completely, but it would mitigate for it, substantially.

      The number of people whose lives are ruined by the Drug War is way up there, not just in the United States but internationally.

      1. Not that I don’t sympathize people who are jailed for smoking pot. I do. But it’s a lot easier to avoid those charges than to avoid the skyrocketing cost of medical care and we haven’t even seen the effects of the employer mandate yet.

        1. It isn’t just the people who are jailed.

          It’s also all the victims of gangs–gangs that would be so prolific if they couldn’t finance their activities with marijuana distribution.

          It’s also the victims of violence in Mexican border towns, where the cartels have been actively shooting it out for years.

          It’s also the middle-class taxpayers, who have to finance this god awful mess–unnecessarily so. It’s the parents whose kids get their hands on marijuana–because the black market doesn’t care about selling to children. It’s the assault on our civil liberties by way of asset forfeiture; it’s about the militarization of our police force…

          ObamaCare is awful–they’re both bad. But if Obama got rid of Drug War, he wouldn’t be as awful in hindsight as he will be if he doesn’t get rid of the Drug War.

          1. The gangs and cartels aren’t going away untill ALL drugs are legal.

            1. It’s just like with any other business.

              If the land, equipment, frequency of shipments, number of people, etc. required all diminishes, there’s not going to be as much necessary.

              You cut any industry’s revenue substantially, and their spending is going to have to cut, too. It’s been a growth business for a long time, but there are gonna have to be layoffs.

              It’ll happen through attrition. They’ll try to find other sources of revenue for a while, and they might become more violent for a short period because of that, but if marijuana is half of their business, and large numbers of people aren’t buying their weed on the street anymore, it’s gonna hit the cartels–just like it would any other business.

              Borders used to have a legitimate business model. Books just aren’t distributed like that anymore, so they had to go bye-bye. The cartels will still be around post Drug War, but they’re gonna be downsizing.

              1. Marijuana isn’t half their business

                1. Here’s a stat from an article that seems to disagree with me:

                  “According to official estimates, marijuana constitutes 60 percent of cartels’ drug profits.”


                  I’d love to dig deeper, but I gotta go for a bit. If somebody’s got a better stat from a more authoritative source, I’d really like to see it.

                  I’m not expert on the cartels’ profits, and I’d like to see some more authoritative numbers.

        2. Something is better than nothing. I’d still be on nothing, though.

      2. The number of people whose lives are ruined by the Drug War is way up there…

        The Drug was isn’t just about marijuana

        1. oops…Drug War

          1. Yeah, but it’s a big chunk of it.

            The Drug War wasn’t built in a day, and if we collapsed just the marijuana portion of it, that would be a huge step in the right direction.

            The inertia required just to change direction is enormous. Once that’s accomplished, it may prove just as or more difficult to go back to the drug war again.

            Get it out into the open, and it might be like trying to bring back prohibition.

            1. Once that’s accomplished, it may prove just as or more difficult to go back to the drug war again.

              It’s absolutely more difficult to go back to something you never left, since the drug war isn’t exclusively about marijuana. Until prohibition of substances isn’t about someone deeming that they consider them “safe” this is all BS.

              1. I think you also have to look at the environment in which the Drug War really took off.

                Prohibition was about religious revival and women’s rights. I think you would need that environment to really get prohibition going again.

                The Drug War escalated, again, in a religious environment (mostly within the context of the culture war) and, especially, it was about the Cold War.

                They thought LSD did something to make kids oppose Vietnam. The communists in Central America were financing themselves through drug trafficking.

                If we get marijuana legalized in the states and the federal government to respect state law, I think you’re going to need to recreate something like those conditions that started the Drug War again.

                And with the left side of the culture war sort of predominating and the communists gone, you’re gonna have a hard time with that. After marijuana is legal, if we get that critical mass of states, I think trying to criminalize it again will be like trying to make gay people go back into the closet.

                1. Could be wishful thinking on my part, but I don’t think so.

                  1. If we get marijuana legalized in the states and the federal government to respect state law, I think you’re going to need to recreate something like those conditions that started the Drug War again.

                    You keep equating MJ prohibition with the Drug War, so I really don’t follow your argument. Ending MJ prohibition won’t end the Drug War if the reason is that it’s now considered “safe” any more than it will allow me to distill corn mash in my back yard and sell it to my neighbor.

                    1. Just because you’re not allowed to distill corn mash in your backyard doesn’t mean we’re back in the days of prohibition, either. It would take an extraordinary effort to bring that back and make the consumption of alcohol illegal again.

                    2. Because the master let’s me you eat a potato from the big house doesn’t mean you’re free.

                    3. If we get to the point with marijuana where we are like we are with alcohol, Libertopia will still be a ways off, but it’ll be a much more libertarian world.

    2. 50 years from now the history books will praise Obama for bring us all nationalized heathcare. No one under 40 will realize that we once had a better freer system. In fact, the history books will be full of tales of woe describing the heartless, cruel health care system we had until the greatest president of all time stood up to the evil corporations and saved us all from our wretched misery. And no it won’t be any better then than it is now and will in fact be worse. But no one 50 years from now will know the difference. Obamacare is his legacy and in time he will get the FDR treatment for it.

      1. Exactly this. Once some time passes, the bootlickers in the field of historical academia will talk about the “greatness” of Obama, the same way that FDR, who put people in concentration camps and stole the land of thousands of people is remembered as a friend of the little guy.

        So long as the statists control the education system, they will never lose.

  2. Actually Nick more than a few of us couldn’t care less about cannabis because we won’t be using it even when it does become legal, rather our interest in stopping the drug war comes solely down to the desire to not live in a police state which is the inevitable result of attempts at largescale prohibition of anything.

    Further the focus on legalizing cannabis rather than the freedom crushing impact of a police state really does open you up to criticisim’s of just being nothing more than a stupid pothead.

    1. “Baby steps.”

    2. So you have no interest in ownership of you body? Legalization of cannabis is a positive for liberty in and of itself.

      1. But it’s all about which arguments you use to which people.

        The hippie housewife I’m chatting with at the farmers market can be persuaded with the “my body, my choice” argument. The guy in the next lane at the gun range would never smoke pot, but he is very concerned about the ATF, and showing him how the DEA is just like the ATF is going to make him more open to disbanding both groups of badge carrying thugs.

        Both arguments are true, but one is more palatable then the other. It’s not dishonest to tailor your approach to your audience.

      2. Indeed but just like with gay marriage the overwhelming majority of pot legalization supporters don’t give a damn about body autonomy and yet I am still barred from consuming Heroin and meth and steroids (none of which I would ever do but that is largely irrelevant).

        Making pot legal does not end the drug war, nor does it even offer a path to the ending of the drug war because the focus is on pot not prohibition and once the potheads get what they want the drug war will continue on as before but without any effective opposition.

        So yeah legal pot is in some small way a win for freedom but there is 0 evidence that it is a first step to the unwinding of the drug war and in fact could very easily have the effect of cementing in place the idea that the government can and should tell you what you can consume for your own good as they continue to use swat teams to bust coke, meth. and other drug users.

        Basically pot legalization efforts have all been about moving pot from the bad drug to the good drug list and not about getting rid of the lists altogether so celebrating this as a major victory is kinda like acting like you won the superbowl after a 2 yard gain on 2nd and 20 in the 3rd quarter of a preseason game

        1. Great argument. Those of us trying to get rid of the sex offender registry run into the same trouble. “If we could just get the Romeo/Juliet cases off the registry, that would be a start.” Yes, but the registry is still there.

          The argument is that there should be no registry, not that it needs to be fixed–just as your argument is that there should be no prohibition, not that some substances should be allowed.

  3. why should he have any hesitation in liberalizing the federal policies over which he has control?

    My God, Nick — FOR THE CHILDREN!!

  4. I just don’t see it being politically or even culturally feasible. Too much fuel for the teathuglican fire. A black man legalizing weed??!!? The horror. And you can only pivot to the blacks-in-prison facet so many times before it loses it’s punch.
    He may do it, but no one’s going to be trotting it out as a legacy.

    1. I see that interview he did as being like Joe Biden’s “accidental” slip of the tongue on gay marriage in early 2012.

      It was a trial balloon.

      And he doesn’t have to legalize it all by himself so much as embrace what states like Colorado and Washington are already doing.

      If the states get to decide the issue for the themselves, that would be awesome.

      1. We need 15-20 states to do what WA/CO did and with Obama calling the Feds off it will happen.

        1. We just need to emphasize the connection between legalizing weed and your team going to the super bowl.

      2. Exactly, if he’s going to do it, it’ll be indirectly so it can’t be pinned on him as a legacy.

        1. I’m not saying that the interview he did WAS absolutely a trial balloon, but he’s never going to do anything like this without sending a trial balloon up first.

          He wants the credit for it if it’s a good thing, but he’s not about to risk his popularity for making a wildly unpopular move at this point in his presidency either.

          I doubt he cares much about what people on the right think, either. If anything, he’s worried about his support from people like the public employees unions, and sorts of education and nanny state interests that want to micromanage people’s lives.

          We’re over here doing our best to ban soft drinks, and you’re over there trying to legalize marijuana?! And, hell, organizations like the NAACP just recently went public against the Drug War.

          The left has been free riding on the right for being anti-Drug, but they’re in it up to their necks for their own reasons, too.

      3. – I would estimate that there’s about a 1-in-3 chance that Florida amends its constitution this year to legalize medical marijuana.

        – Florida votes once every 18 years on some sort of People’s Amendment (not the actual name) to the state constitution.

        – Any ballot issue has to win with 60% in order to be enacted into law.

        – Right now the GOP Sec of State is challenging the wording of the initiative to try to keep it off the ballot. She is trying to save her own job–and Gov. Rick Scott’s.

        – 2014 is going to be OK either way. At the very least, I suspect, Alaska will be the third state to legalize in August. Oregon might also legalize in November but I’d put the chances of that at less than 50-50.

  5. if Obama framed the issue explicitly in federalist terms,


    Thanks, Nick. I needed a good laugh this morning.

    1. There’s a lot he might do to make himself look good. He’s always campaigning, but now that he’s got no need to campaign . . .

  6. Any government “legalization” of weed is going to come with so many strings attached that the black market isn’t going anywhere.

    1. This right here. I don’t get very excited over the whole Colorado and Washington “legalization” because it feels a hell of a lot more like the government giving you permission with various stipulations. The goal should be decriminalization, not permission.

    2. Right. And there is a significant black market in cigarettes now as well. As long as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Weed, and Firearms is focused on tax evasion instead of individual smokers, it will be a step in the right direction.

      1. Hey, the A-WTF bureau. You’re onto something kinnath.

    3. But the black market will change quite a bit. Black markets exist for just about anything.

  7. So which scenario is more likely:

    – Obama announces in a post-presidency interview or editorial that his views on marijuana legalization have “evolved” in the direction of legalization.

    – or he reveals that he was in favor of legalization all along, but the mean ol’ obstrublicans wouldn’t let him get away with it during his presidency.

    Also, over/under on how many years out of office it takes for him to say so?

    1. As he takes a big puff on a blunt in his Colorado retirement home.

  8. Legalizing weed won’t financially benefit Obama – so it ain’t gonna happen.

  9. The GOP House would block any outright legalization so baby steps is all he can do.

    1. Bullshit, he could instruct the FDA to change the schedule status of weed.

      That would be an actual legitimate use of his discretion as chief executive.

      1. It’s amazing how many people refuse to believe that, even when I cite the relevant statute. It’s almost as though people trusted the narrative over evidence.

    2. Obama: “Hey DEA, marijuana arrests are no longer a priority. And reschedule marijuana.”

      Boy, that was hard. No teathuglican assistance needed.

      1. He cannot reschedule by Executive Order.

        1. Why can’t he order the AG to act under this section?

    3. Nope, it’s an executive call. Looks like you got served.

    4. Baby steps? You mean like commuting drug sentences for eight people instead of the thousands that also qualify?

  10. So, basically you are advising Obama to mollify the population with [legalization of ] drugs. Sounds like a plan worthy of an Empire.

    1. I don’t know. It would probably make some people think better of him. But I doubt it would change how anyone votes.

  11. Even if he decided to legalize it, would the Justice department believe him? Or would it be like the NSA reforms?

    “Sure boss, we got it. No more War on Drugs.”

    “What you were serious? We thought you were just doing your usual lying”

  12. sborsher 1 hour ago
    That’s right, add more burden to 0care. Alcohol does not cause cancer as much as any smoking. “What a maroon!”


    r_u_serious 1 hour ago
    This article reminds me of Richard Sherman’s rant. Only the dumbasses who believe the writer is pulling anything but a Muhammad Ali-esque popularity stunt would think Obama’s legacy needs hooch to materialize. He should be remembered as the one who tried to enact progress in many historical initiatives against the GOP legion of doom.


    1. That lowdown sneaky GOP will do anything to keep Obama from getting the legacy He deserves!

    2. Alcohol does not cause cancer as much as any smoking.

      I’m not so sure that’s true.

      I like how he calls it 0care (zero not letter O).

      1. “Because zero is tall and slim, like the Ebony Messiah, not as any sort of condemnation of 0bamaCare.”

  13. Obama’s Best Shot at a Legacy is Ending the War on Pot

    Like FDR is remembered for ending the War on Alcohol.

    1. Hell, FDR isn’t remembered for beginning the War on Pot. Nixon gets all the credit from historically illiterate dopers.

      1. There were a few other things going on with FDR.

        And no one thinks that pot was only criminalized under Nixon with the controlled substances act, so stop it with that shit. A lot of people consider the War on Drugs to have started then, though. It’s not ignorance, just differing opinion on what “The War on Drugs” refers to.

  14. But this isn’t the legacy He wanted!

  15. Let’s give Obama the Nobel Prize for Marijuana and hope he takes the hint.

  16. Is it really “legalizing” weed? Show me one person in prison for weed and I’ll stop complaining.

    1. +1 moonshine still

  17. is this a serious piece? Of all the things going on, pot legalization is the marker that will distinguish Obama from his predecessors? Please. And I fully support legalization of weed and anything else that adults want to ingest.

    As it is, Daily Beast is about the worst forum for a piece that does anything short of blowing Obama. Numerous posters see anything even remotely discouraging about POTUS as a hit piece.

  18. civil liberties record is awful

    That all depends on where you stand on civil liberties.

  19. A fool’s hope is what I call it. I would happily eat a big shit-pile of crow if I’m wrong, but Chocolate Nixon (that term never gets old) just ain’t likely to do it.

  20. distill corn mash in my back yard

    On the one hand, I’d like to have a still and to make my own fireworks.

    On the other hand, I like not having to worry about my neighbor’s house exploding.

    Freedom for me but not for thee isn’t an acceptable outcome, so I’m not sure how to reconcile those contradictory positions.

    1. Well, I reconcile this by recognizing that 1. people have a pretty strong incentive not to blow up their houses and 2. there are plenty of things that people can do right now, both legal and illegal, that have the potential to blow up or start a big fire.

      1. there are plenty of things that people can do right now, both legal and illegal, that have the potential to blow up or start a big fire.

        Ok, it was pretty ignorant of me to not be worried. In which case, now I want the unfettered ability to do whatever as long as I’m not violating anyone.

    2. Sometimes our rights overlap and contradict each other, and there are myriad ways to deal with that.

      I think there’s a legitimate role in sorting that stuff out in civil courts, sometimes, and there’s a remarkable amount of irresponsible behavior that never happens because people (or their insurance companies) don’t want the liability.

      In the community my folks live in San Diego, they have CC&Rs; and restrictions on use that you agree to when you buy a house. You can’t work on your car in front of your house in that neighborhood–not without getting fined.

      Forcing people to live by contracts they sign willingly isn’t really coercion, and that’s just one example of the ways free people can handle these things. People actually pay a premium to live in that community because of the CC&Rs;, and if you don’t want to buy a house there, you don’t have to.

      1. P.S. The danger from your neighbors blowing the place is up is no reason to ban alcohol consumption or fireworks.

        1. For the record, I mentioned production of alcohol and fireworks on residential properties, not their use.

      2. Forcing people to live by contracts they sign willingly isn’t really coercion

        right up until there is nowhere you can go without signing a contract. which people will eventually accept just as they have accepted the elimination of any possibility of an untaxed-unregulated existence.

        1. If you’re talking about anti-social behavior that’s so obnoxious that you can’t go anywhere–even in rural America–without signing a contract agreeing not to do it? Then that must be a really obnoxious anti-social behavior.

          And if it wasn’t too obnoxious, I would think there would be a tremendous profit to be made in offering a housing development that allowed that behavior, too. In fact, if it ever gets that bad, I’ll build the development myself and make a fortune.

          Someday, somebody will do a study of how the gay community gentrified what were formerly undesirable neighborhoods and made them extremely desirable. These are people whose presence was once seen as a drag on property values–who went into places like Long Beach, Ca, Dupont Circle, and elsewhere, and turned them into thriving communities you need to pay a premium to live in.

    3. Idea 1:

      Build a Bear Workshops, for stuff that’s actually cool. All sorts of loud, smokey/fumey, potentially explosive and fire-hazard-y activities in a proper facility with on-site Fire & EMT. 3, 6, or 12-Month memberships and day-passes.

    4. On the one hand, I’d like to have a still and to make my own fireworks.

      On the other hand, I like not having to worry about my neighbor’s house exploding.

      Freedom for me but not for thee isn’t an acceptable outcome, so I’m not sure how to reconcile those contradictory positions.

      If freedom from worry is an accepted right then there is no argument against any prohibition the state can dream up.

      1. 1. i wasn’t claiming such a right.

        2. i already retracted the idea that i shouldn’t be worried just because regulations are in place. retracted and admitted that i was retarded to think so. I fell into the trap.

    5. See Skylighter.com and WitchitaBuggyWhip.com for starters.

  21. I know that Obama does, in theory at least, have the power to order the DEA to unschedule marijuana, but I kind of wonder what would happen if he actually sent that memo.

    Marijuana is how the DEA makes most of it’s money and fighting it is really what they exist to do. I imagine there would be some pushback.

  22. This is nothing a statesman can build any legacy on. Think of the judges who effectively legalized pornography. They’re not much celebrated for that. Regardless of how much att’n there may be at times to med mj, legalizing cannabis is about allowing people another way to enjoy themselves, and facilitating enjoyment is not considered anything worthy of history. The only thing about the issue that excites reformers is the overheated enforcement of drug laws compared to other vice laws these days. If drug enforcement were ramped back down to the level of enforcement of the laws against pornography had been at 50+ yrs. ago, it wouldn’t generate much heat at all. So, sorry, this is a losing issue for a statesman in the eyes of establishment history. A century from now people will chuckle over this having been an issue at all, and won’t take seriously the effort on either side of it.

    1. Seriously, in a century it’s going to be like, “People burned vegetation and inhaled the smoke on purpose?” Nobody’s going to be considered having been a hero for altering the laws about that, except possibly for outlawing all smoking.

  23. I feared he would become a dismal leader,but hoped the sniveling little snake would try to save his people by quitting the”War on Drugs”.

  24. Anyone who sees the legalization of weed as an accomplishment is a fool!

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