Why Obama Really Might Decriminalize Marijuana

Esquire contacted NORML as well this week curious about what appears to be an opportune time for cannabis law reformers at the nascent stages of the new Obama administration. Below is Esquire’s John Richardson’s take on these interesting and active times in cannabis law reform.
Allen St. Pierre, Director, NORML
The stoner community is clamoring to say it: “Yes we cannabis!” Turns out, with several drug-war veterans close to the president-elect’s ear, insiders think reform could come in Obama’s second term — or sooner
Writer-at-large John H. Richardson’s column, “The Richardson Report,” runs each Tuesday.
Why Obama Really Might Decriminalize Marijuana
Famously, Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved the United States banking system during the first seven days of his first term.
And what did he do on the eighth day? “I think this would be a good time for beer,” he said.
Congress had already repealed Prohibition, pending ratification from the states. But the people needed a lift, and legalizing beer would create a million jobs. And lo, booze was back. Two days after the bill passed, Milwaukee brewers hired six hundred people and paid their first $10 million in taxes. Soon the auto industry was tooling up the first $12 million worth of delivery trucks, and brewers were pouring tens of millions into new plants.
“Roosevelt’s move to legalize beer had the effect he intended,” says Adam Cohen, author of Nothing To Fear, a thrilling new history of FDR’s first hundred days. “It was, one journalist observed, ‘like a stick of dynamite into a log jam.'”
Many in the marijuana world are now hoping for something similar from Barack Obama. After all, the president-elect said in 2004 that the war on drugs had been “an utter failure” and that America should decriminalize pot (watch video here).
In July, Obama told Rolling Stone that he believed in “shifting the paradigm” to a public-health approach: “I would start with nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. The notion that we are imposing felonies on them or sending them to prison, where they are getting advanced degrees in criminality, instead of thinking about ways like drug courts that can get them back on track in their lives — it’s expensive, it’s counterproductive, and it doesn’t make sense.”
Meanwhile, economists have been making the beer argument. In a paper titled “Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” Dr. Jeffrey Miron of Harvard argues that legalized marijuana would generate between $10 and $14 billion in savings and taxes every year — conclusions endorsed by 300 top economists, including Milton “Free Market” Friedman himself.
And two weeks ago, when the Obama team asked the public to vote on the top problems facing America, this was the public’s No. 1 question: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”
But alas, the answer from Camp Obama was — as it has been for years — a flat one-liner: “President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.” And at least two of Obama’s top people are drug-war supporters: Rahm Emanuel has been a long-time enemy of reform, and Joe Biden is a drug-war mainstay who helped create the position of “drug czar.”
Meanwhile, in 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, 782,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes (90 percent of them for possession), with approximately 60,000 to 85,000 of them serving sentences in jail or prison. It’s the continuation of an unnecessary stream of suffering that now has taught generations of Americans just how capricious their government can be. The irony is that the preference for “decriminalization” over legalization actually supports the continued existence of criminal drug mafias.
Nevertheless, the marijuana community is guardedly optimistic. “Reformers will probably be disappointed that Obama is not going to go as far as they want, but we’re probably not going to continue this mindless path of prohibition,” NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre tells me.
Some of Obama’s biggest financial donors are friends of the legalization movement, St. Pierre notes. “Frankly, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling — this triumvirate of billionaires — if those three men, who put up $50 to $60 million to get Democrats and Obama elected, can’t pick up the phone and actually get a one-to-one meeting on where this drug policy is going, then maybe it’s true that when you give money, you don’t expect favors.”
Another member of that moneyed group: Marsha Rosenbaum, the former head of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, who quit last year to become a fundraiser for Obama and “bundled” an impressive $204,000 for his campaign. She said that based on what she hears from inside the transition team, she expects Obama to play it very safe. “He said at one point that he’s not going to use any political capital with this — that’s a concern,” Rosenbaum tells me. And the Path to Change will probably have to pass through the Valley of Studies and Reports. “I’m hoping that what the administration will do,” she says, “is something this country hasn’t done since 1971, which is to undertake a presidential commission to look at drug policy, convene a group of blue-ribbon experts to look at the issue, and make recommendations.”
But ultimately, Rosenbaum remains confident that those recommendations would call for an end to the drug war. “Once everything settles down in the second term, we have a shot at seeing some real reform.”
Still, a certain paranoia prevails. Rumors about Obama’s choice for drug czar have lingered on Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad. “He’s been a standard anti-drug warrior for the whole time he’s been in Congress,” says St. Pierre. Another possibility is Atlanta police chief Richard Pennington, who raises fears in the legalization community of more of the same law-enforcement model. Another prospect stirring the pothead waters is Dr. Don Vereen, the chief drug policy thinker on the transition team. “He’s really a believer in prohibition and he can excite an audience,” says Rosenbaum, who says a friend on the transition team refused to hint at final contenders for the drug czar pick. “I’m joking with him, ‘I’m going to have to open up the New York Times for this, aren’t I?'” His answer: “We’re going to send out smoke signals.”

0 thoughts

  1. Why does the people not matter anymore? I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a national vote on this once and for all and really see what America thinks. I believe those on the hill would be very surpirsed by the outcome. We’re out there were voting them in why can’t we have a say on how our country is run. I feel America has lost itself… lost touch with the very core we were founded on. We were once a country that took action now we are a country that sits and waits for our leaders to tell us how to think. I’m 21 and scared for the future.

  2. I really think it is time for us to stand side by side with our brothers and sisters, and say enough..We demand to be heard, we demand our say be the final say. We need to all look at our Declaration of Independence ..Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.. I am also scared for our future.

  3. Adam,
    I would argue that the reason there hasn’t been a national vote (aside from legal reasons) is that our government is all too aware of what the outcome of such a vote would be. They only have to look at the 14 states that have voted in favor of MMJ, and the handful of states that have decriminalized cannabis, to know that many in the so-called “justice” system and prison-industrial complex would be out of work!
    The only things that really matter to the two dominant political parties are gaining power, keeping power, and gaining even more power and keeping that power!
    Politics equals corruption (except for some very rare cases), and that’s the way it always has and always will be. Don’t worry too much – the answer is right in front of us, but it will take courage! Vote for third parties that will neuter the out-of-control government – like Libertarians or Ron Paul types.

  4. Mr. St.Pierre, I’ve tried to leave feedback @ the Hill and for some reason they won’t post it. I’m sure you know that the moderaters are picking and choosing, duh right? That’s how it works. I’m just a little peeved to think that I spent all that time writing and it fell upon deaf ears. It was fair and balanced. No matter, I could write about it anytime, any place at any length. I will only post here from now on since I can’t get my feelings out anywhere else. Thank you so much for allowing me to do so. Merry Christmas to you and your’s and to all of the supporters and their loved one’s. I love all of you no matter what. Even my brother’s and sister’s in other countries. Thank you all for making me feel NORML. Keep up the fight. You have my support. Respectfully, Aaron H. (Kansas)

  5. The people do matter, Adam. The reason there hasn’t been a vote on this is because that’s not the way things are done and thats not the way things have ever been done. Everyone votes for local representatives, i.e. Senators and Congressmen and national representative, i.e. the President and these people are supposed to “represent” us when drafting and making public policy. I do, however, relate with your sense of frustration over the current system, because in many aspects, drug policy being the biggest one, the politicians available to be chosen for representation don’t actually represent the majority of people’s opinions, which in turn creates this terrible position for the American public where they either don’t vote or hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils who in the end is just more of the same. I’m 20 and hopeful for the future, and I would suggest if you think the way things are being run right now suck, then vote! and also get involved, in any way you can, even if its just spreading the truth to people who are totally blind or ignorant to this issue because “The truth shall set us free.”

  6. I often wonder what our founding fathers would think about our current state of affairs? I often feel that the framers of our constituition would role over in their graves if they could see what has become of this once great country.

  7. We don’t need to make more laws regulating marijuana. The reason Obama might “legalize” marijuana is to get all us “free-thinkers” to accept some kind of federal registration (aka Real ID). Let’s be careful not to get too excited that we jump through hoops just to get something that is just as naturally legal now as it will ever be. We do not want anybody telling us what we can’t, and can, do.

  8. Adam, you should be scared for the future. The only way Obama is going to end the Drug War is if he gets blasted by every opposer with a promis not to vote for him next time round unless he ends it. This would only be effective if all those closet users spoke up also and all at the same time.

  9. Adam, the people know.
    The prohibition isn’t just a purple elephant anymore. It has evolved into the circus and everyones got their part. politicians, parents, activists, you, me, Big Pharma, my little brother in D.A.R.E. right now…anyone caught up in the American Dream. The only change coming is a new ring leader. He can talk all the talk, but will he walk the walk? Yes he cannabis?
    Besides a million other reasons, let’s get common sense real about this… Do not anticipate the DEA, nor other like government agencies, to avidly relinquish such enormous power over the masses.
    Do It For Liberty,
    -21 And Scared Too

  10. “The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.”
    Abraham Lincoln
    Obama is quite the admirer of Lincoln…. The best we can do now is …hope…

  11. About political capital and his second term.
    If Obama goes for Clinton-style reefer madness in his first term, there might not be a second term.
    In 2012, the highest number of marijuana arrestees ever before in history will be heading to the polls. It’s going to be a history-making election.
    There will be somewhere between 10 and 15 million marijuana arrestees in the voter pool in 2012.
    If Obama’s Drug Czar spends the next four years poking marijuana users with a sharp stick, Obama could end up getting Al Gored very easily in 2012.
    Obama has to spend his political capital in Congress wisely, but he also has to guard his political capital with the voters at the same time.
    I think the best he could do in his first term is appoint a commission, like Marsha said, and avoid using the ONDCP as a platform for spreading lies and misunderstandings and hate.
    If Obama goes for the kind of approach to marijuana that was fashionable during the Clinton administration, then he’s going to wake up a sleeping beast and possibly end up very sorry that he did, because his career in politics will be over if he doesn’t win reelection.

  12. I feel we are in one of the most exciting, yet tense times that we will face yet concerning cannabis law reform. This has become much like stretching a rubber band right before the point of snapping. In my opinion (and hopefully this is true) we are at the crest of a tsunami wave that is just waiting to break.
    Hopefully my generation will be able to look back when we have kids and grandchildren and can point back to the next four to eight years and say, “Look, that is where the waves broke and the tide finally settled. That is where the people finally won, and democracy was restored. That is where we became America again.”
    The tension is so tense now that all of us that are caught up in it are about to pull our hair out. To be so close with only hope on our side, it is enough to drive one to insanity. It is time for us all to take a breath, and keep working harder than ever. Now is a better time than ever to contact our legislators and voice our opinions. Perhaps we could effectively convey to our leaders that supporting this issue is not political suicide. Perhaps we can convince our unsure families that their children will be safer with regulation and education than prohibition. Perhaps when it is all said and done, we can all sit back and let out a big sigh of relief that will send all of the greenhouse gases straight out of the atmosphere.
    Let’s keep it up. For better or worse, we’re closer than ever.

  13. Adam I agree with you for the most part, but Obama’s true colors won’t really come out until we see his pick for the drug czar. But one thing you have to understand about politics is Obama has always been a “play it safe” guy. That sounds bad but it’s really quite good, it means he’s a tactician, we won’t see any more of this Bush politics horseshit. Remember that Bush is the decider, from what I’ve seen of Obama he plays politics more like a game of chess. And this impresses me because I haven’t seen a man with that intelligence in politics my entire life, I’ve only read about the men who aren’t still alive. But Obama’s choice to play this slow and safe would be a good one. If his first day in office if he were to just say “Let’s hit a bong!” it wouldn’t make him look very good. He’d look more like snoop dog to the racists(who are mostly christian fundamentalists also against marijuana reform). Legalizing marijuana won’t be an overnight thing, it has to be done in small increments to be done right and not end up in the corporations hands to destroy and regulate on their own. For this all the bases must be covered and there is little room for mistake. So I say if Obama is in favor of it like he’s stated he is in the past, I think he wants to start laying the foundation as stealthily as possible. I also find it very odd that his pick for drug czar is last and so late, perhaps he’ll announce it at a later date closer to his inauguration so it gets less coverage and notice? I’m not sure but perhaps that’s the case and if it is I can’t imagine his pick would go as mainstream politics has over the past almost 40 years. So I haven’t made up my mind completely up about Obama yet, but if McCain won would we even be talking about this? I think not. So let’s give him a chance and see what his decisions are in the coming weeks.

  14. A question. Obama will use the same bible Abraham Lincoln used at his swearing in. Considering its age, is this bible made of hemp paper? It resides in the Library of Congress.

  15. Just legalize Marijuana already! None of that decriminalize bullshit. decriminalizing is just another way to screw medical and recreational users in different ways.
    “Reform could come in Obama’s second term — or sooner”, NO! it should be looked right into as soon as he hits office. The Government knows all about Marijuana’s benefits, they just don’t want to do it cause they feel it’s unfair for the corrupt DEA to lose pay or some other bull crap.
    If Roosevelt can make alochol legal right on the 8th day as president, so can Obama!
    We can’t wait that long, the economy is falling greatly and if the government cared so much about our economy falling, they would legalize it! Why wait another 4 years if it doesn’t even promise nothing? If we don’t get it legalized soon, we would be in a hole we won’t be able to get out of in years.
    Am’I the only one who thinks decriminalizing is just another way to screw us smokers over?

  16. The second term is out of the quetion. The nation needs the money now, and the parallel would be at the beginning of the economic stimulus from making the cannabis money visible legally. If Obama somehow finds some other money or way of fixing the economy in his first administration there is in his possible second one not such a strong incentive to legalize. It needs to be started right away his first time in office.

  17. “Wait till Obama’s second term” ? R u kidding ? Almost a million people were arrested for marijuana last year. If he is going to do it, do it ! Dont wait 4 years (4 million arrests) later. Remember Jimmy Carter, he talked of decriminalize but never tried and never got a second term. If Mr.Obama is going to do it, he has to do it in the first term or we hang 4 million american arrests on your hands with no relection ! Now is the time to walk the walk Mr.Obama.

  18. It’s just another case of a candidate telling the masses what they want to hear. And when he jokingly said yes I inhaled and deep it was just a test to see what kind of reaction he would get. He got the reaction he wanted and went with it. All the “youngsters” registered and voted for him because of these statements and got suckered. We “oldsters” have heard the BS before and are just a little more hardened. Now they’re all pissed because they got up early on election day and wasted an afternoon of sleep to make what they thought was a difference. Now they are gonna string them along with short stories about how he might still decriminalize it. It’s sad but welcome to life in the good ol’ USA kids.

  19. Adam i completely agree with what your saying and i ask myself the same thing day-to-day. But, i do believe we are not ready for a national vote yet. That is to say i do believe the day is coming that a national vote will win for us, but i dont believe that day is here yet. There are to many narrow-minded, uneducated americas living in our country who refuse to reason with science, who refuse to listen to the fact. We have come so far in pushing for reform, it would be a tragidy to force a national vote and set us back decades. The day will come that i believe all of america will have seen the truth and everyone will look at all things with an open mind, i just believe we need a little more adveritising and a little more undesputable facts. Then something amazing will happen to change the world, like having the first african american president

  20. The sad fact is that most Americans today are either to lazy to become activists, or are just too stupid to realize that we are living in a policed state.

  21. If he doesn’t decriminalize it in his first term… he will not be getting my vote for a second term. Not that he got my vote this time around either. LOL
    (Ron Paul supporter)

  22. personally i dont care if they decrim marijuana or not. I want legalization. It’s simply unfair if the users dont get prosecuted but the suppliers do. It needs to be legalized not decriminalized!

  23. I agree totally with you Voodoo. Who gives a rats ass about the decriminalization issues? We need to focus more on the legalization issues. Every election the politicians play their “Weed Card” just to gain votes and obtain a seat in some whacked up government. Only to leave us drooling at the mouth with the possibilities of change. There is progress, but slow progress. We’ve been fighting these issues for years now. We should be thanking Mr. Nixon for screwing all of this up. He devised the plan that was set to downpress a once proud Nation for years to come. He knew the money it would generate in the future years to come. Now look at the “War on Drugs”. A multi-billion dollar business. There’s no turning back now. Its time to strap up. Share the knowledge. One Nation under God.

  24. I think the most we may see from OBA is that he will let the states decide what will be done with Medicinal MJ, without interference by the federal government’s police forces. I would prefer to see a law rather than a directive.
    (But I think MJ must be removed from its legal schedule 1 to another which would allow MJ to be recognized as a controlled drug but with medicinal uses.)
    But I hold no hope that OBA will re-classify MJ to another schedule.
    Maybe he wont pick a Drug Czar. That would be nice.
    Lets see what OBA will do. What ever he does I am not stopping my MJ usage. So screw you drug warriors!

  25. What we need to realize even if they do decriminalize mj that doesn’t mean that an employer can’t use drug testing as a stage in the screening process of employment. As we can plainly see by the latest reports out of California some employers don’t get it. You can be a functional employee that doesn’t break other laws just because our drug policy doesn’t make sense.
    We need to focus on full legalization. Then we can “settle” for decriminalization as a fall back plan while still pushing the effort. As the drug Czar from Holland has been quoted as saying, “We’ve succeeded in making illicit drugs boring.” Meanwhile Holland has lower; addiction rates, crimes and no drug screening before employment. With the money we could “save” from not spending on chasing down baggies we could focus on helping those who want to get off the substances. Rather than trying to force people to quit a substance that they don’t choose to quit.
    Who are we to decide if someone else needs a substance or not? After all did Rush L. go to jail? Of course not. So who’s to say that I don’t need some light to medium pain relief temporarily or assistance on chemotherapy or an HIV POS employee trying to work for some medical benefits?

  26. I think it should be legalized and put in the liquor stores. NO WORSE THAN LIGUOR, BEER OR TABACCO.

  27. Simply put, marijuana is really hemp with a ridiculous label, which the word itself “marihuana” implied darkness, which the people of the early 20th century actually believed. Man where we simpletons then.
    Hemp is a miracle plant and it promotes good. Evil frequently defeats good and thus such a great gift and tool must be wiped out so evil can prevail. When will good return to earth, when were all gone.

  28. I’ll smoke pot whether its legal or not until the day I die! Fuck em, and fuck the police too! My dad fought in Korea and smoked his first pot there ( he found it growing wild and it knocked him out for two days he slept in a field, haha) me and my dad smoked pot together since I was twelve and he died in Mar 2007 and we smoked it until the day he died. Like Bob Marley said Pot is the healing of a nation mon. Fuck the police!

  29. I will be 57 in JAnuary. I have not smoked any weed in years but mainly because it is illeagal. I am a local business owner and cannot afford to be arrested. I have chronic back pain and have been on opiates for about ten years. I would love to be able to use pot to alleviate this problem. I am sure I could cut way back on other medications that are much worse for my over all health. It is time for this silly war on marijuana to end. Allow people to grow for their own use, (with a government permit of course… they will have to tax it i’m sure) but it’s time to end this silliness. No person should be in jail in this country for possession of pot. What a waste of money it is to keep these people in jail. If the generation that is now in power,(along with the help of younger generation), cannot get this done… then I have no hope that they can get anything meaningful done. This is a no brainer and it has gone on long enough. If Obama cannot stwp up to the plate on this… he is not the agent of change that he made himself out to be. If he does not do this, he is just another politician who will say anything to get elected. Time will tell but with our economy… time is golden.

  30. once again we put our hopes on a politician? These guys for the most have never worked and worried about putting beans on the table.They are to busy at the tiddy bar taking money from big oil exects for a lap dance to give a shit about our needs.Our fredoms are a result of rebelious poeple who wanted fredom from over zelous red coats and we ran those bastards out of town!Its time for a real overhaul,I mean all eight cylinders not just a spark plug change.Just my 2 cents,God bless all Americans.

  31. Fuck the decriminalization shit! I want it leagalized. I think that we smokers have a right to do what we want. Expecially since pot is, I think, better than anything else out there. Who says that I cant come home from a long day at work and smoke a lil pot, just like drinkers can come home and drink a beer. I also think that if Obama is smart he with legalize it to help the ecomomy. with all the uses of the cannabis plant. i just dont understand what all the hub-bub is about making it legal. why are they so determined to catch all of us. what did we really do, besides smoke, to make them want us so bad? there are worse ppl out there, murderers, theives, pedophiles, but instead they come after us…thats just wrong. i am 22, and i too worry about our future in this country.

  32. As much as I would like to see medical marijuana in all states, I do not see it happening anytime soon. The major problem is the drug companies are contributing millions of dollars to our elected officials. Those of us who choose to smoke, weather for pain or for pleasure, can’t make those multimillion dollar donations. I use opiates daily and get tired of the side effects of these drugs. I have to take it by a certain time or you get to enjoy withdrawl until you take that damn pill.(Jbo I feel your pain) Then lets wait 1/2 hour for it to take effect. Marijuana does not give you any type of withdral any gives you immediate relief. I agree that there needs to be a national vote on certain drugs. For those on harder drugs, we should help them, not throw them in jail where they can die from their drug withdral. Politicians say Hollands drug policy won’t work here. Can anyone tell me when we tried to legalize drugs and failed? All I can hope for is to not get busted with my marijuana. PA is hard on drug offenders. I was turned into a drug addict by a doctor not by choice. As Bree said, put it in liquor stores and treat it as they treat alcohol. We need to keep fighting for what we believe in. It is our country, not the DEA or the government.

  33. The meaning of Freedom in America. The freedom to do what the government tells you you can do. Otherwise you will go to jail and lose everything you have.

  34. All this paranoia over one little plant makes my head spin. People going to jail? A dangerous drug? Since when has one of humanity’s most important botanical resources become a demon weed? I guess such radical departures from the natural truth are no surprise, given that most believers of the “demon weed” theory are government educated.
    Screw pot. Is anyone concerned about how stupid “drug-free” Americans have become?
    My only comfort is in knowing where the truth is and where it isn’t. My fear is that our government will become constitutionally illegitimate before anyone notices… oops, too late!

  35. I am a user that has quit. I have never had a withdraw. Not a part of me was affected by quitting except proving the point that there is no physician addiction to marijuana. They say that it makes you lazy and nonfunctional. I felt more compiled to go to school because i was much less bored. I am very ADD so maybe a medical substance that made it more appealing to go to school but as a whole people are calmer, less violent, and more eager to learn new interesting things. I got more done high then i ever do now. People are scared of what might happen to kids, slap an age limit on it. Ether way they’re going to do it. I drank before I was 21 and it will continue that way for all time. They will learn for themselves like it has happened for, lets see, all time. Jobs can drug test if they don’t want that type of person working for them. It’s not hard to say a drug test is required. If they don’t want to pay for it, then they don’t care enough to make it a requirement. Quit destroying our freedoms to control a little more of society. I love the books and movies that have the robots halting the freedoms of humans for their “own good”. And the hero get their freedoms back. We need a hero. Thank you to the congress men putting their reputations on the line to be a hero.

  36. Marijuana will be legal soon, they already dicriminilized it in MA, Soon it will be like that everywhere. Plus I heard next year medical marijuana will be legal in alot of different states too so I guess its just a matter of time! Hang in there!!!

  37. Marijuana’s going to be legalized soon, they Have Marijuana vending machine’s in California{For medical reason’s only}How much longer could it possibly be?

  38. I hope it happens sooner than later. As a chronic pain sufferer Im, ready for something to take the edge off. I take 8 different medication’s and still hurt so much that I wish i could sleep forever, it’s the only time i am out of pain. Tht doctor told me today that I needed to learn to accept my pain, easier said then done. Help need a campasionate dr in tx. N Wright

Leave a Reply