The Obama Campaign's Poor Handling of the Marijuana Decriminalization Issue

In February, Barack Obama reversed his past statements in favor of marijuana decriminalization. He reiterated his concerns over the incarceration of first-time non-violent offenders, but maintained that people who commit crimes (i.e., marijuana) should be punished. I'm sure his campaign advisors thought it was a smart move to distance the Senator from marijuana reform, but it didn’t work.

This transcript from FOX News' Hannity & Colmes earlier today shows exactly why. The segment begins with a clip of Obama advocating marijuana decriminalization in 2004, followed by this comment from republican strategist Kevin Madden:

MADDEN: …Look, there's — if — for anybody who's wondering why Barack Obama was listed by National Journal as the number one liberal in the Senate, it's votes like this, it's a world view like this when it comes to law enforcement issues like the criminal laws that relate to marijuana.

This crystallizes, for a lot of Americans out there, in middle America exactly who Barack Obama is and what he would do as president.

Clearly, Obama is still being subjected to the same predictable and vindictive partisan attacks that he sought to avoid by dismissing decriminalization. Obama's revised rhetoric simply failed to prevent those accusations. It also ignored the views of the American people, 72% of whom support decriminalization according to the most recent poll, conducted by Time/CNN.

From now through November, Obama will be falsely and repeatedly accused of being pro-marijuana. Yet, because he recently rejected decriminalization, he can’t explain why it's a good idea. He will instinctively point towards his recent backpedal, which just makes him look weak. Rather than standing with 72% of Americans and making strong arguments for marijuana reform that most voters would agree with, Obama is stuck debating the meaning of decriminalization and struggling to define his views on the issue. He could instead be scoring points with voters that will appreciate some long overdue straight talk on this issue.

It is doubly silly when one considers the popularity of marijuana reform with libertarian-minded swing voters. A pro-reform stance could earn independent votes without costing him anything from his base, which cares way too much about the war and the economy to be turned off by a position on marijuana that liberals overwhelmingly support anyway.

Obama's communication skills, combined with broad public support for reforming marijuana laws, can still make this issue an asset for his campaign. But that can only happen if he goes on the offensive and takes a stand for sensible marijuana policies rather than hedging and trying to duck partisan attacks that are going to happen anyway. If Obama doubts his ability to sell Americans on an idea 72% of them already agree with, I'd be happy to help draft some talking points.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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I won't say

that I am surprised.

Whenever Barack Obama is confronted with a social justice issue he instinctively runs to the right. He is a faithless slug with no real values other than getting elected.

We have to expect Obama to run to the right on drug war issues his advisor is John Kerry, a real drug war nut-case.

Your column is dead on target Scott. Thanks for keeping the debate open and vigorous in this election cycle.

Here is an essay with some ideas for policy issues that Obama could work with. I wrote it as a challenge from Obama supporter and Blog Reload author Lee Rosenberg who ask me to write a fantasy speech for Obama that would not hurt his chances to win the election but that would "win" my Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader leaning protest vote.

Fantasy Criminal Justice Policy Speech for Sen. Barack Obama

Just another politican

It doesn't matter much anyway, because the government won't be able to afford to fight the war on drugs for much longer. All three candidates are economically illiterate, and will spend us out of existence. So look for a Weimar Germany style hyperinflation during the next president's term, with a simultaneous deep depression.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/ess_germanhype...

Ron Paul was this country's last hope. Maybe something better will rise from the ashes.

Some Choice

Between the three remaining candidates there's not much hope for meaningful drug policy reform. So while I support Obama, I am deeply disappointed with the choices offered. To his credit, Obama is the only remaining candidate to state that the drug war has failed.

I certainly believe he'll appoint a more reasoned and honorable drug czar than John Walters and there are many other issues outside of drug policy that make Obama the best choice such as how we are viewed in the world outside of America and ending the other war.

Re: Some Choice

To be fair, Obama could be far worse on drug policy than he is. He's sounded good on needle exchange, medical marijuana, mandatory minimums, and seems genuinely concerned about our massive prison population.

As far as this post is concerned, I'm more interested in illustrating how Obama's handling of the issue is politically flawed, rather than in critiquing his actual statement itself (although there are points to be made about that as well). I personally believe he "gets" the issue. I just wish political strategists would consider the possibility that in 2008 it might actually work better to just be honest about one's views on marijuana rather than trying to placate an anti-drug voting block that might not actually exist anymore amidst the other pressing issues of our time.

Our politicians' personal views on drug policy are often much more informed than we realize, thus it really is the flawed political calculus that is holding back reform, not our failure to provide them with new research or different arguments.

Hatchets

It's not the voters they're worried about.

OBAMA still Best Choice!!

John Kerry headed Senate Investigations surrounding the CIA and cocaine being distributed around American inner cities. Kerry came to the conculsion that the U.S. was complicit in drug smuggling during the Reagan administration to support the Nicaraguan Contras. At that time congress had denied any funding for the rebels fighting in Nicaragua. Thus the whole Iran-Contra arms affair with Oliver North. The money used to supply the Contras with arms was Drug money raised through the CIA and Barry Seal. If anyone knows this drug war to be a sham it's John Kerry. Yet most politicos are in the pockets of big business. More specifically tobacco, alcohol and the pharmacutical companies. Obama does not take money from special interests and relies on individual donors to finance his presidential run. Being of African American decent you would think he would have a first hand look at the injustices this drug war has inflicted on minorities. I just think he wants to fly under the radar like Bush did and then move things to the far left. I will vote for him with that hope in mind. Obama also made a pledge to the Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana to stop raids in states with Marijuana Medical laws. He did admit to smoking pot after all !!!! J. Velasco Brownsville Texas

flawed political calculations

Assuming that Kerry is somehow in any way anti drug war or a moderate on the issue just because he took a political advantage in the 1980's when he exposed the illegal drug activity of White House political adversaries is a politically flawed calculation.

Rand Beers. There was a flawed political calculation. A rabid drug war extremist who was Kerry's drugs and terrorism advisor in the 2004 campaign.

The policy that sanctioned the CIA to spot drug planes for attack and that led to the shoot down of a family of missionaries over Peru in 2001 was pushed by John Kerry since the 1980's. Way back in the 1980's the State Department and CIA told him it was a bad idea because so many people used private civilian aircraft over the rain forested nations of South America.

During the closings of military bases after the Cold War Kerry recommended using bases as concentration camps for drug users.

For me, Obama having John Kerry as an advisor is a politically flawed calculation.

Obama is not

a leader and it shows in the politically flawed calculations he and his campaign make.

It would be interesting

to learn who Obama, Clinton and McCain's drug policy advisors are since those folks are the top candidates for the next drug czar.

Poll

I read the Time article citing their poll, but I'm skeptical of polls, since they are easily manipulated by "thumb on the scale" tactics.

I didn't see a link to poll details.

Does anyone know where I can conveniently find the details for that Time/CNN poll?

How many people took part in it?

What political party, if any, are poll participants registered with?

What was the exact wording of the poll question(s)?

Etc.

This poll can be good, if it's proven credible.

Pressure Barack to Support Marijuana Decrim

I started a facebook the day Barack retreated from marijuana decriminalization - February 1, 2008. Join this Facebook Group right now! invite your friends, send a letter to the editor, and write the Obama campaign http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34496600384

Screw protesters, screw hippies

I really wish there was more conservatives (eg. Buckley, Friedman, Paul...) who supports medical marijuana. I mean a bunch of left wing liberal deadhead hippies protesting in the street will not help the cause. It makes the proponents of medical marijuana look stupid. Just my opinion

Obama Wiggles on Medical Marijuana

At my blog, ALeftIndependent:

http://aleftindependent.blogspot.com/2008/05/obama-wiggles-on-medical-ma...

"Jacob Sullum at Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog wrote this week that he thinks Sen. Barack Obama's position on medical marijuana is "getting clearer". Frankly Obama's position is irrelevant. Aside from setting some new priorities for the DEA Obama can't do much that the congress does not first enact, authorize and appropriate.

Besides, as important as the compassion for ill and medically suffering Americans is, the medical marijuana enforcement issue does not resolve the major public safety and security issues confronting Americans today. Public safety problems exacerbated by the continued prohibition by the congress against regulating, licensing and taxing the violent criminal anarchy out of marijuana distribution. A prohibition that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain all still support.

Simple solution to both the medical marijuana issue as well as the public safety issues in America today: 2008 Marijuana Decriminalization Bill in the U.S. Congress".

Obama is playing political chess, he HAS NO CHOICE..

Until the 110th Congress is out of DC, every new age pol will have to play this game of cat and mouse.

But look a bit more deeply into Obama's position, and if you aren't prejudiced towards him (for ANY reason, not just exclusive to race) then you should be able to read between the lines.

He is saying that the laws need changing, not that they are just. But he can't take a "break the law if you don't like it" approach to anything in this Bush era, because Bush and Cheney have broken so many laws they don't like, that by speaking the truth about the injustice of the federal pot laws he also excuses them from their lawlessness.

I realize their transgression far outweigh our own daily "malfeasances", but at this juncture in the process I think Obama's approach has been measured and careful. And until November, that is the only course he SHOULD take. And we should respect it as smart politics, not as some ideological betrayal.

I just posted my first blog entry here, still waiting on approval, I found this site just today after reading the LA Times story about organ transplants.

Obama's not going to push the envelope, not yet, and until this election is over, it will only make it harder to get the changes we need in the Democratic majority to reverse almost 40 years of federal injustices.

Don't blame Obama for his political necessities, once we have a new congress, then we will see them start making the change we all know is inevitable. Unfortunately, that will be sometine in 2009, not in 2008. There are still too many Republicans in congress to make that change now, and too many red dog dems who might very well see their seats go to people much more tuned and attentive to our cause.

Have patience, and HOPE, that the future we all envision is just around the corner.

someone wrote: ``He is

someone wrote:

``He is saying that the laws need changing, not that they are just. But he can't take a "break the law if you don't like it" approach to anything in this Bush era, because Bush and Cheney have broken so many laws they don't like, that by speaking the truth about the injustice of the federal pot laws he also excuses them from their lawlessness.''

----------

so speaking the truth is being lawless?

whatever... that's why we never win...

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