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Calls for Drug Law Reform Top Obama Transition Website at

Amy Long,
Drug Law Reform Project
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December 18, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama offered Americans a unique opportunity to directly relay their concerns to the incoming administration when his website unveiled its “Open for Questions” tool late last week. The result of that tool’s first round of voting may have surprised Obama and his staff: two of the top ten questions –including the highest ranking question – concerned marijuana policy and questions that challenged the drug war in general took 16 of the top 50 spots. Many were disappointed, though unsurprised, by the administration’s response to the question that landed in the top slot. When asked whether or not he would “consider legalizing marijuana so that the government [could] tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs [and] a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.,” Obama’s team responded with a resounding “no,” stating simply that the President-elect “is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.”

Though Obama previously voiced his tentative support for marijuana decriminalization and ending federal raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers, he has never spoken in favor of all-out legalization. Indeed, had Obama answered the question affirmatively, he would have broken with a powerful, 40-year-old political tradition that requires government representatives to endorse strictly prohibitionist, punitive drug policies despite mounting evidence of their inefficacy in order to avoid appearing “soft on crime.”

The administration’s dismissive response fails to acknowledge the degree to which marijuana law reform is at its heart not really about marijuana at all, but rather about how we want to spend our increasingly limited financial resources and how much government intrusion into our private lives we are willing to allow. As a nation, we currently spend billions of dollars launching propagandistic, counterproductive anti-marijuana media campaigns; funding inefficient, abusive law enforcement tactics; and locking up otherwise law-abiding citizens. Ending this irrational, costly and constitutionally corrosive war on marijuana would free up that money for use in improving education, providing access to healthcare, and rebuilding America’s outdated transportation and public infrastructure – all of which Obama vowed to prioritize during his successful bid for the White House.

Despite his uninspiring response to the question of marijuana legalization, those interested in alternatives to the “war on drugs” should not give up hope that Obama might approach drug-related issues in a more responsible, ethical, and thoughtful way than have his predecessors. On his transition website, Obama promises outright to eliminate sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses, expand the use of drug courts, and offer more comprehensive support services for ex-offenders – including substance abuse and mental health counseling. Moreover, Obama’s willingness to engage ordinary citizens through interactive, web-based communication tools like “Open for Questions” stands in sharp contrast to the lack of transparency and accountability that has characterized the outgoing administration. If nothing else, concerned Americans can rest assured that their dissatisfaction with our current drug policies has been brought to the attention of the incoming President. And if you have yet to voice your opposition to the “war on drugs” or any other pressing civil liberties concerns facing the Obama administration, will re-launch its “Open for Questions” tool within days of this post!

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