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Obama Administration Shows Signs of Ending Cannabis Prohibition

A black and white image of young Barack Obama in a fedora holds a joint in his hand.

Joint Opinions

Obama Administration Shows Signs of Ending Cannabis Prohibition

President Barack Obama’s accomplishments in office are numerous and significant but for marijuana activists like myself, progressive policy changes remain elusive. In full disclosure, I work in the President’s party and have remained a supporter of the President’s policies since he took office. However, the Obama administration’s disjointed policies on marijuana, particularly medicinal marijuana, has left me wanting.

Recent developments in Colorado and Washington seem to have forced President Obama’s hands and provided significant energy toward moving into an era of sensible drug policies. It appears that significant changes in public opinion are forcing the administration to take baby steps toward modernizing marijuana policy. Being involved in policy-making at the local and national level these small shifts in policy give me cautious optimism about the President’s intentions.

For an administration whose website says that, “legalization would further burden the criminal justice system”, President Obama himself seems to be quite the fan of marijuana.

In saying that he “smoked pot as a kid” and doesn’t “think it is more dangerous than alcohol” President Obama just tipped the national dialogue inevitably in favor of legalized marijuana. My previous disagreements with the administration seem to be irrelevant now because the President of the United States interjected his personal experiences with marijuana into a conversation that had previously been reserved for advocates and law enforcement.

It’s amazing what a difference a month can make. Between President Obama’s January statements and the time of this writing, significant changes in federal policy have already come from within the administration.

Almost exactly a month after his statements, the Justice and Treasury Departments announced new rules allowing legal dispensaries to open bank accounts. Just a month later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he was working with the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce mandatory minimum sentences. Five days after Holder’s announcement the Department of Health and Human Services announced they would allow the University of Arizona to conduct a research study on the benefits of medical marijuana for those suffering from PTSD.

It is still too soon to tell if any of these changes are harbingers of a greater shift in policy for the Obama administration, but based on my personal experiences within the Democratic Party I am confident in positing that change is coming to drug control policies.

However, as we’ve seen through recent developments, this administration does not budge without significant pressure. These developments should serve as a clarion call for activists to get busy and organized in our local communities. We must use local action, grassroots organizing, and even the smallest of successes to build on what we’ve achieved so far. Changes to local policy create a groundswell that will pressure national actors, particularly the Obama administration, into solid action.

Most importantly, we should all take advantage of the shifts in public opinion and national dialogue. As the partisan I am, I believe the future of marijuana policy lies in the heart of the Democratic Party, so please get involved by joining our party—or any party. All parties need passionate advocates to push policies. Get involved at the local level and let your activism on behalf of sensible drug laws define the 21st century.

Do these incremental changes signal a real shift in Obama’s stance on marijuana policy? Tell us in the comments below.

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