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Still Waiting for Obama's Marijuana Policy

04/08/2013 08:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2013

The 2012 election happened over five months ago, at the beginning of November. One notable result of this election was that two states -- Washington and Colorado -- voted to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. This was a direct challenge to federal drug policy. We are all still waiting for the Obama administration's response. I don't know about you, but I, for one, am getting a little sick and tired of the wait.

I cannot name another contentious issue that President Obama has stonewalled in such a fashion during the same time period. We've had policy announcements, speeches, or other White House activity on such hot-button issues as: gay marriage, gun control, contraception, Social Security, Medicare, taxes, the federal budget, drones, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, immigration reform, women's rights, climate change, and probably a number of others that don't immediately spring to mind. The public knows where Obama stands on these issues, or at the very least knows the general direction of his policy. But not on marijuana. On that particular issue, we are left to guess.

There is simply no excuse for this. Allow me to point out, once again: it has been over five months since the election. During this entire time, we have heard not a peep from Barack Obama, nary a word from Eric Holder. Nothing. The stonewalling is complete.

Obama, for most of his first term, liked to treat the entire issue as a big joke. He was forced to do so because of the overwhelming online interest he got whenever he did a "virtual town hall" or any other such social networking foray (turns out a lot of pot smokers know how to use computers -- who knew?). People demanded answers to serious and specific questions about what the Obama marijuana policy would be, and what they got instead was a punchline from the president. But the time for laughing the issue off as being irrelevant is long past.

People aren't laughing any more. The states are moving forward, one by one, instituting much more sane and reasonable laws dealing with marijuana. Medical marijuana is now legal in twice the number of states that have legalized gay marriage, for instance -- roughly 40 percent of them, in fact. Maryland just passed such a law. The voters in Washington and Colorado approved adult recreational usage of marijuana in defiance of federal law. Five months ago, in fact.

The American public is, to borrow a phrase, "evolving" on the issue. National polls now show more than half the country supports full legalization. Much like gay marriage, the younger voters are even more liberal on the issue than their elders. Meaning it isn't too hard to see which way the "arc of history" is bending. Everyone now under the retirement age either was born or came of age from the 1960s onwards -- and, as a result, has a different attitude on marijuana usage than previous generations. People now in their 60s were teens in the 1960s, to put this another way. They have personal experience dealing with government propaganda (which is a polite way of saying "outright lies") about marijuana -- they used to go see midnight showings of the old propaganda film Reefer Madness, in theaters echoing with laughter and filled with billowing clouds of smoke.

In perhaps the best example of how things have changed, the last three presidents have admitted to smoking pot -- something that once would have automatically disqualified any candidate for the office. Politicians of a certain age are now allowed to have had "youthful indiscretions" with marijuana -- while nobody ever asks them the fundamental question: "Would your life have changed for the better in any way by getting caught and being changed with the crime of smoking pot?" The hypocrisy of supporting criminal charges for others for what they once did is stunning, but (again) nobody ever seems to ask this question of such politicians in the first place.

Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder continue to fight the War On Weed as if Nancy Reagan were in charge. Or Harry Anslinger, for that matter. This fight has been very quiet, for the most part -- Obama has given no major speeches touting his crackdown on marijuana -- but it has been a fierce one nonetheless. When Obama was first elected president, he promised his administration would set "science-based" policies and allow states with medical marijuana laws to experiment without federal interference. He has broken both those promises, to be blunt (no pun intended). The Department of Justice has taken a very hard line indeed, even in states with legalized medical marijuana.

Which is why marijuana advocates are so worried about how Obama and Holder are going to react to Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana. Nobody really knows what Obama and Holder are going to do. And (not to be annoyingly repetitive) after five whole months we're all still waiting to find out.

There are any number of options for Obama and Holder to choose. There's a whole spectrum of possibilities, from a serious federal enforcement crackdown to a court challenge to the laissez-faire "let's see what happens" approach.

But the citizens of Colorado and Washington are tired of waiting to see what the Obama/Holder approach is going to be. How long does it take to formulate a policy, for Pete's sake? Both states are in the process of setting up rules and regulations for how their legalized recreational marijuana marketplace is going to operate. Both states have reportedly been in contact with the Justice Department in an effort to lay their cards on the table, in the hopes of getting the feds on board with whatever systems they come up with. Holder, however, has been holding his cards very tightly to his vest. He refuses to say what he's going to do. He is "studying" the issue, or "formulating a policy," or perhaps just "stalling, in the hopes the issue will disappear, somehow." This is no longer acceptable. The voters of Colorado and Washington deserve an answer, and they deserve one now.

If Barack Obama and Eric Holder want to stage a major federal enforcement effort in Colorado and Washington in an effort to turn back the tide, well then, they should get out there in public and defend such an action. If they truly believe that a crackdown is the proper response to the two states' legalization voter initiatives, then they need to explain why and attempt to get the public behind their effort. If, on the other hand, they think allowing Colorado and Washington adults to freely smoke pot is the way to go, this also would be a policy that would require some public education as to their reasons why.

Either of these positions (or even any sort of "down the middle" approach) is going to be cheered by some and excoriated by others. Not everybody is going to be happy, no matter what policy Obama and Holder decide to set, in other words. Such is the nature of politics, and the nature of leadership. Even those who disagree with whatever the stated Obama policy turns out to be could at least respect it as a stated policy. That way, they would be free to respond: "OK, fine, that's your position? Well then, we're going to fight you on it."

Not having a position, however, is becoming more and more unacceptable with each passing day... and week... and month. Mister President, Mister Attorney General, with all due respect, we are tired of waiting. You've had five months. You've had enough time to make up your minds. State rules and regulations are being drafted right now. We require a serious federal response, whatever it turns out to be. Not deciding is just not acceptable any longer.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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