Obama: Drug Legalization “Worth a Serious Debate”

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Legalizing recreational drugs in the United States “is an entirely legitimate topic for debate,” President Barack Obama said yesterday during an online chat session moderated by YouTube. He was responding to a retired deputy sheriff whose question criticizing the War on Drugs had been voted the most popular during the web video site’s “Your Interview With the President” competition. 

While Obama quickly added that he’s “not in favor of legalization,” his comments went further than those of any past past president in questioning the wisdom of a drug policy based on arrests and incarceration. It was also a significant break from Obama’s own rhetoric. During an online address in 2009, he’d dismissed outright a popular question about whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy, chuckling as he said, “No, I don’t think that’s a good strategy.”

Obama’s statement will probably to score points with people who favor pot legalization—according to some polls, nearly half of all Americans. In early 2009, he earned kudos from potheads when the Justice Department announced that it would stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws. In recent months, however, the IRS has intensified audits of California pot dispensaries, where marijuana is a $14-billion business with ties to venture capitalists and Wall Street (as I document in a recent feature, Weedmart).

Here’s Obama yesterday, in his own words: 

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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