In 2008, Barack Obama took the nation by storm with a message of change. One of the promises made to American voters was a pledge to use his executive powers to completely shift in the disproportionate and unreasonable laws against cannabis. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass.
There were certainly some minor wins, including Attorney General memos prohibiting the DEA from going after cannabis companies that were legally compliant with their state’s laws. The legislative branch also put up roadblocks, depleting funds that the DEA would have used to prosecute cannabis companies in states with medical (and recreational) laws. President Obama actually had very few options to personally ratify pro-cannabis laws, and over his two terms, there were certainly very progressive instances of the shifting cannabis tide.
But many cannabis activists feel that Obama did not fulfill his promise to reform cannabis laws to be more sensible. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone writer Jann Wenner, published Tuesday, outgoing President Obama provided insight into the weighted struggle between public health, substance abuse, and states’ rights to experiment using the democratic process. In what can be considered either his reasoning or his excuse, Obama shared his opinion on cannabis and the approach to take in the future:
“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues…
Look, I am now very much in lame-duck status. And I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go. But in light of these referenda passing, including in California, I’ve already said, and as I think I mentioned on Bill Maher’s show, where he asked me about the same issue, that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There’s something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal.” – President Obama from Rolling Stone Interview
The problem for many, is that the future of America has been thrust into a tumultuous battle of ideologies in which the President-Elect, Donald J. Trump, will trust advisors to address contentious policies like cannabis reform. Trump chose Alabama Governor Jeff Session to be his administration’s Attorney General, a move that puts a historically anti-cannabis individual in charge of the legal decisions of the Federal government. Within days of taking office, Sessions could theoretically eliminate every federal protection that was put into place during the Obama administration.
Again, the fear and frustration here falls back on President Obama, who many accuse of failing to solidify cannabis as an important and progressive American issue. Because the protections put into place over the last eight years are so flimsy, the concern for regression to the War on Drugs is very palpable.
For the most part, many people view Barack Obama as an incredibly positive and progressive president in America’s history. Still, he could have done a lot more to protect cannabis, and any changes for the worse will be the result of his inaction on the matter. The Rolling Stone interview provides a wonderful look at our nation’s leader, and the decisions that he had to make during his time in office. Well worth the read.
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