Obama’s Record on Marijuana Legalization Raises Policy Questions

marijuana legalization A. Storm Photography / Shutterstock.com[/caption]

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul may have got it right in his statements on drug policy that made national headlines last week week:

“The last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use… It would have ruined their lives”

While Senator Paul is only one of many high ranking politicians and drug officials that have begun to speak out on the consequences of long-standing prohibition laws, little has changed since Obama took office.

Time has shown that the president appears to be just as anti-marijuana as his predecessors were. It was the Obama administration that allowed federal prosecutors to launch a massive crackdown on California’s extensive network of medical marijuana dispensaries back in 2011, in direct contrast with promises he made in the 2008 presidential campaign.

At the time of the crackdown, the question on many people’s minds was, why? Medical marijuana happens to be a billion dollar a year industry that remains resilient to the faltering economy. Marijuana has also been proven to be far less deadly than substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

Other critics have questioned the significance of the president’s role in the war on drugs, as Obama was vocally opposed to it only a few years before being elected president.

In January 2004, then-Illinois state senator Obama declared that “the war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws… we need to rethink how we’re operating in the drug war. Currently, we are not doing a good job.”

In light of the president’s recent crackdown on marijuana dispensaries, some find it even more peculiar that Obama was an avid cannabis smoker in his younger days. His 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” paints a very different picture of Barack Obama during his high school days.

According to his own accounts, the young Obama knew all about getting high and where to do it without getting caught, having partaken in discreet spots ranging from a “classmate’s sparkling new van” to “the dorm room of some brother you’d met at the gym.”

The president even started a few trends among his high school friends, a close-knit group that called themselves the “Choom Gang” — “choom” referring to what anyone who isn’t from Hawaii simply calls “getting high.”

Obama’s personal and political track record led many to believe that he had a more liberal outlook on the drug, especially the younger group of voters who were swayed by his promise to not pursue marijuana offenders in compliance with state laws back in 2008.

At the beginning of his second term, it seems like Obama might be reverting back to his promise of bringing the previous administration’s prosecution of medical marijuana to an end. Except this time, the previous administration is his own.

Despite overseeing the closure of hundreds of dispensaries across California, the Obama administration has remained relatively quiet since measures were passed in November to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

When asked by ABC News‘ Barbara Walters shortly after whether he would pursue marijuana users in these two states, Obama indicated that it wasn’t a “top priority” and that there were “bigger fish to fry.”

As traditional as it is for politicians to remain ambiguous — particularly with regard to drug policy — many hope that the “bigger fish to fry,” in the eyes of the Obama administration, are drug cartels and not dispensary owners.