The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise after Obama recently raised his hand in opposition to marijuana decrim at a recent democratic debate. Seeking to paint him as a flip-flopper, The Washington Times dug up footage of a 2004 appearance in which Obama said this:
"I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," Mr. Obama told an audience during a debate at Northwestern University in 2004.
Obama's campaign is now standing by this earlier statement, claiming that the Senator has "always" supported marijuana decriminalization. This actually makes sense, because Obama's apparent opposition to decrim during the debate was triggered by a badly worded question from Tim Russert. As I said at the time, this all goes to show how a cheap soundbite approach to the marijuana discussion trivializes the issue and obscures any real difference of opinion.
Fortunately, now that Obama's position has been made perfectly clear, we face the possibility of a full-on marijuana debate between front-running presidential candidates. It could begin as soon as this evening during Obama's long-anticipated one-on-one face off with Hillary Clinton. Absent that, an Obama nomination would guarantee republican attacks on the marijuana issue, inevitably sucking this discussion into the political mainstream where it belongs.
Jacob Sullum argues correctly that decrim is a remarkably soft position by drug reform standards, but that fact will surely be lost on the blood-thirsty political attack machine that will be directed at Obama if he receives the democratic nomination. And I for one welcome every last nasty morsel of it, lest the debate over recreational marijuana use in America should be excluded entirely from presidential politics yet again.
Weak as it may be, Obama's is the best position on the marijuana issue taken by a viable presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.
Update: Tragically, the Obama campaign has now reversed its position on decrim. Most of the above can be disregarded entirely.