Marc Ambinder writing for GQ has what they’re calling an “exclusive”; quoting Obama aides and associates as saying that if President Obama wins reelection, he’ll pivot his focus to the catastrophic failure of the War on Drugs. Of course, by the end of the piece Ambinder says the marijuana legalization community should not expect the President to come out in favor of legalization before November.
I disagree, and this is why. If you’ve been watching the Obama reelection campaign shape up over the last few months, you would see them trying to solidify their base, in order to get them motivated to get out and vote in November. When the DREAM Act stalled out in the Congress, President Obama took to the Rose Garden to announce an executive order that would halt the deportation of over 800,000 young people. In May, he also announced his support for gay marriage. Although, his support for gay marriage did not equal a legislative victory, its power as an issue was intensified when spoken from behind the bully pulpit. These moves have bothhelped improve polling numbers amongst Democrats, and even swing voters in battleground states. Prior to these public gestures, there was a lot of speculation about whether the Latino and LGBTQ community had been left in the cold.
Many in the marijuana community will make the case that President Obama is not to be trusted. To be fair, he has overseen a federal crackdown on state sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries (executing more DEA raids than Bush) , after pledging in 2008 to not dedicate scarce Justice Department resources to circumventing state laws. The Obama administration has also held several online forums where marijuana legalization was one of the top questions asked by the public. He called it a legitimate topic for debate, while laughing at those who are ready to have the debate. This has left an understandably bitter taste in the mouths of the marijuana reform activists.
Even though marijuana legalization still seems to be a topic that the Obama administration is afraid of, I think we could see Obama have his marijuana moment before November. It will require a summer of pressure on the part of our movement, but with Colorado and Washington State (and possibly Oregon) already preparing to vote on legalization this summer, it will become impossible for the administration to run away from marijuana as a mainstream issue. Last year, Gallup announced 50% support nationwide for marijuana legalization for the first time ever, a recent Rasmussen poll shows that number inching towards 56% support.
Marijuana legalization has not only been growing stronger amongst public opinion polling nationwide, it has now become a winning political issue in Democratic primary politics (even a platform issue in Colorado, Texas and Montana). On May 15th, the marijuana reform community of Oregon managed to make history by electing Ellen Rosenblum as the state’s first woman Attorney General, in a race that centered around medical marijuana. Several organizations ran ads attacking Rosenblum’s opponent for calling Oregon’s voter approved medical marijuana program a “trainwreck”, which ultimately led to his defeat. Just a couple weeks after what I consider to be a tipping point in Democratic politics, Beto O’Rourke managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. Without running away from his position that the drug war is a failure, and the main cause for violence on the border, he unseated eight-term Congressman Silvestre Reyes in a race that made national headlines.
After watching two democratic primary races that made national headlines from their association with the growing debate over marijuana, even darlings of the Democratic party are beginning to see their political futures shaped by marijuana policies. Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York came out last month in favor of decriminalizing 25 grams of marijuana, with the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Unfortunately, the Republican controlled state senate killed the bill, but it does not change the fact that Governor Cuomo, who comes from a political dynasty (and possibly eyeing the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination) decided to use his political capital on this issue. In the President’s home town of Chicago (also the home of his reelection campaign), its Mayor (and former Obama Chief of Staff) Rahm Emanuel also came out for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Emanuel’s proposal to decriminalize 15 grams was passed overwhelmingly few days later by the city council, in a 43-3 vote.
President Obama can’t even leave the country to get away from talking about marijuana legalization. In April, he attended the Summit of the Americas with 30 heads of state from around Central and South America. There he was confronted about the disastrous War on Drugs by the Latin American leaders, including President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, where they recently decriminalized small amounts of cocaine and marijuana. Since then, there has continued to be movement on this front. Uruguayan President José Mujica announced on Friday Uruguay’s plans to decriminalize personal amounts of cocaine and marijuana. Internationally, Latin American politicians seem to be leading the way with alternative solutions to controlling the flow of drugs. It probably has something to do with 40 years of the DEA and other U.S. agencies meddling in Latin American countries, and 50,000 dead just south of the Mexican border within the last six years.
It seems everywhere you look these days there is a marijuana headline staring you in the face. Will the next one be “Obama’s Marijuana Moment”? As the reelection campaign starts to look at November’s landscape, and sees that Obama has two (maybe three) states in the West with medical marijuana programs and legalization on the ballot, they are going to have to make a decision. Support marijuana legalization because of the monumental waste of resources spent on its prohibition and its effect on civil liberties; or ignore the groundswell that began with grassroots activists and led support to from city halls and statehouses in some of the most populated areas, and be on the wrong side of history. Knowing that President Obama ultimately cares about his place in history, if our movement can keep up the pressure (much like Latinos and LGBTQ did) through the summer, I think we’ll see movement before November. If he wants our movement’s enthusiastic support, it is the only option.
Post originally published on The Weed Blog.