Obama's Poll-Following Marijuana Metamorphosis

The president's shifting pot positions reflect changes in public opinion.



This week President Obama referred to the repeal of the federal ban on marijuana as "progress on decriminalization," a concept that he has both embraced and rejected over the years. In my latest Forbes column, I argue that Obama's shifting pot positions reflect changes in public opinion:

In an interview with Vice News this week, President Obama suggested that removing marijuana from the list of federally prohibited substances would represent "progress." At the same time, he made it clear he's in no hurry to see that happen. "Young people," he said, "I understand this is important to you. But, you know, you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe, way at the bottom, you should be thinking about marijuana."

This sort of condescension is by now a familiar feature of Obama's responses to questions about marijuana legalization. It glosses over the reality of pot prohibition, which entails arresting 700,000 or so people every year in the United States, or one every 45 seconds. Although those people generally do not spend much time behind bars, they still experience the indignity, cost, and inconvenience of being treated like criminals, and they may face life-altering consequences. That is surely true of the 40,000 people in prison for growing or distributing marijuana, who could be forgiven for wanting to change this unjust policy before we manage to lick global warming.

Although addressing the pointless pain caused by pot prohibition may not be high on Obama's list of priorities, he has intermittently recognized it as a serious issue. A review of Obama's statements about marijuana during the last decade or so suggests that, as with gay marriage, he has often felt a political need to conceal his true beliefs, becoming more comfortable about voicing them as public opinion has shifted in his direction. Expecting Obama to lead on this issue is plainly unrealistic, but he seems willing to follow.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. “Expecting Obama to lead on ANY issue is plainly unrealistic, but he seems willing to follow.”

  2. I have no doubt that in 5 years when he’s raking in millions on the book tours Obama will decry the injustice of the drug war. And liberals will wistfully long for his return to power to make things right forgetting all this or blaming it on GOP obstructionism.

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  3. President Obama is a duplicitous piece of shit. This is news?

  4. Following the polls?

    It always works that way with politicians.

    And that’s what validates the real libertarian strategy of appealing to the general public rather than trying to elect libertarian politicians.

    When we get a critical mass of libertarians in this country, it won’t matter who the politicians are or what party they’re from.

    Obama flipped that way on gay marriage, too. He used to be all about how “Marriage is between a man and a woman”.

    George Wallace flipped on segregation once the polls no longer supported it.

    Jim Crow didn’t die in this country because some courageous politician had the courage to stand up for what’s right against the tide of public opinion. Jim Crow died because people like the Reverend Martin Luther King changed the public’s opinion.

    Even the Roman emperor was worried about public opinion. Nero launched all sorts of persecution against the Christians, but in the end, you couldn’t be the emperor unless you were a Christian. Even vicious dictators are scared to death of public opinion.

    So it doesn’t surprise me that a politician like Obama changes with public opinion, too. What we say to each other is a lot more important than how we vote.

    1. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? They’re supposed to be public servants, not masters. Their own opinions aren’t supposed to count, because they’re not hired experts, they’re just agents.

  5. Funny coming from a guy who would not be where he is today if he had ever been arrested for smoking a joint.

    1. “Intercepted!”

  6. Jacob, you do not mention the possibility of the president’s branch being able to reschedule on their own(subject to later being overridden by congress, of course). Was this due to space constraints or has this argument been found to be deficient?

    1. Good question.

      The prez can’t legalize or decriminalize entirely, but he can damn reschedule and take the heat off.

      1. No, the att’y gen’l can reschedule, newly schedule, or deschedule any substance except tobacco, malt beverages, wines, and distilled spirits. S/he can also exempt particular preps of controlled substances.

  7. But, you know, you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe, way at the bottom, you should be thinking about marijuana.”

    Fuck. You. Asshole.

    Yeah, why worry about the possibility of getting locked up for no reason when you could think about some political issues that you can’t do anything about. I hate that argument. De-scheduling cannabis would take about 5 minutes.

  8. Obama is a POS like all of those who came before him.

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