The news: The New York Times boldly endorsed federal marijuana legalization and the White House vehemently spoke out.
On Monday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a statement disputing that legalization is a solution to a number of national problems.
The New York Times editorial board opined in its Sunday July 27, 2014 edition that the Federal government should legalize marijuana for adults aged 21 years and older. The New York Times editorial board compares Federal marijuana policy to the failure of alcohol prohibition and advocates for legalization based on the harm inflicted on young African American men who become involved in the criminal justice system as a result of marijuana possession charges. We agree that the criminal justice system is in need of reform and that disproportionality exists throughout the system. However, marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution to the issue.
In its argument, The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana. While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem.
This move represents yet another flip-flop from Obama on marijuana legalization. In January, Obama candidly told the New Yorker that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and said the racially disproportionate incarceration rates in the U.S. need to change. Bizarrely, that's something that Obama and the Times actually agree on. The Times article calling for federal legalization cites this exact problem and yet Obama suddenly disagrees. As the White House statement puts it, "We agree that the criminal justice system is in need of reform and that disproportionality exists throughout the system. However, marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution to the issue."
Ignoring the facts. While the statement claims the White House's policy is based on science, it does not make a single mention of medical marijuana research and the positive medical effects legalization has had in dozens of states. The medical community is brimming with discoveries of cannabis treatments for a host of hard-to-treat diseases and yet this doesn't factor into Obama's reasoning on the issue.
The White House statement lists reasons not to legalize marijuana, including the familiar sensational claims warning that it threatens our children, citing a study that says marijuana use during adolescence can cause impaired brain development. However, another study found that cannabis does not affect teen brain tissue, while alcohol does. That finding is more consistent with Obama's original statement that alcohol is a more damaging habit than cannabis. In fact, he made the decision to use cannabis for himself as a youth, as the New Yorker pointed out in May. If he got to make that decision for himself, why can't other Americans?
Image source: National Cannabis Coalition
The tide is changing on marijuana across the country. Its medical, social and economic benefits are undeniable. Lawmakers are finally seeing that our prohibition of weed, and the enforcement of that prohibition, has been damaging to many individuals and the country. A majority of Americans supports legalization. So why is our president so slow to adapt to the people's will? For a guy who ran under the slogan "Change," Obama is doing a lot to keep our unjust marijuana laws exactly the same.