Monday, April 5, 2010

Obama: Pro-Decriminalization and Anti-Legalization?

This week we have a very special guest post by none other than Denny Chapin. Mr. Chapin is the Managing Editor of, a directory of drug rehab centers and resource for substance abuse information. He has written for other blogs like Drug WarRant and Morning Donut.

Marijuana is Harmful

Recently-appointed ‘Drug Czar’ Gil Kerlikowske gave a speech on March 4th, 2010 entitled “Why Marijuana Legalization Would Compromise Public Health and Public Safety” in which Kerlikowske, speaking for the Obama Administration, strongly opposes the legalization and continued distribution of medical and potentially-legal marijuana. In his speech, Kerlikowske states that “science should determine what a medicine [referring to medical marijuana] is, not popular vote.” Citing instances where communities are using zoning, creating nuisance laws, and planning regulations, as well as the decrease in marijuana outlets in the Netherlands, the argument seems simple: legalizing marijuana causes nuisance and crime.

Beyond this point, Kerlikowske argues that the issue with marijuana is not about a culture war, but about what recent science has told us about the effects of the drug. “And the science, though still evolving, is clear: marijuana use is harmful. It is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects.” Kerlikowske also cites decreased attention, negative effects on short-term memory, and decreased ability to learn and process information as other major negative side effects of marijuana use.

Kerlikowske, speaking for the Obama Administration, makes it clear that they are fighting legalization and the growth of medical marijuana dispensaries. The issue with all this is not whether or not it’s accurate, but rather what is motivating this loud reaction to medical marijuana, marijuana decriminalization, and marijuana legalization.

Background on the Drug Czar

Before Kerlikowske became the U.S. Drug Czar he was the Seattle Police Department’s Police Chief from 2001 until his appointment to the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2009. In 2003 there was a local ballot initiative in Seattle that would make marijuana possession for personal use a low priority. Kerlikowske opposed the initiative, but in a response he stated, “arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use... is not a priority now,” going on to say that the SPD was focusing more on cocaine and heroin traffickers.

Change in Position?

What changed from 2003 to 2009 that brought Kerlikowske to deliver a vehement speech touting the ills of marijuana? Perhaps these videos will shed some light on the subject:

Barrack Obama – “I inhaled frequently”

Barrack Obama and Medical Marijuana

Barrack Obama on Marijuana Decriminalization

Political Reaction

Barack Obama, too often it seems, has supported liberal views about marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and his own personal use of marijuana, all before he was elected President of the United States.

First, can we not applaud this man for at least being honest about his past drug use, treating it with a bit of humor? At least we can see that Obama willingly goes past politics in certain cases.

However, it seems like the backlash against Obama’s liberal views have prompted a far more conservative, ‘scare-based’ approach at the federal level. Kerlikowske’s statements paint marijuana legalization as the disastrous path that the United States seems to be treading.


Is there contradiction within these views? Obama is explicitly against, and with Kerlikowske’s help, has removed the fiery language of the “drug war,” favoring legislation for marijuana decriminalization, also admitting he smoked marijuana in his youth with the intention of getting high. Kerlikowske stated that police enforcement of marijuana possession was a low priority for the SPD in 2003. So the question remains: are these views compatible with the notion that marijuana legalization is a sure-fire path to a dumber youth population, increase in crime, and decrease in productivity in our citizens?

I believe the answer to this question is simply that there is no contradiction in holding a pro-decriminalization and anti-legalization stance. Being against legalization does not prohibit or necessarily prevent one from being for decriminalization. While this position is uncommon (usually someone who is against legalization is also against decriminalization), there are no inherent logical faults in stating that marijuana possession should not be a criminal offense, while also stating that marijuana should not be legalized. As such, legislating in favor of decriminalization is compatible with legislating against legalization.

One simply wonders: Is this speech a product of millions of YouTube views, or real sentiment our government is willing to spend time, energy, and money on? And that, I’m afraid, remains up in the air.

Be sure to tune in next week for my rebuttal—T.A.

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