Will Obama let the reefer madness go on?

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In The New York Times last week, Charlie Savage reported that the Obama administration has begun debating the pros and cons of moving against two states that legalized marijuana the same day he was returned to office by the voters last month.

"Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations," Mr. Savage wrote.

As David Maraniss noted in his recent bio "Barack Obama: The Story," our president as a teenager inhaled cannabis with brio, along with his prep school buddies in the "Choom Gang." There's no word on whether Mr. Obama is one of Mr. Savage's high-level sources for the story. One would hope that a sheepish sense of self-awareness would prompt the president to abstain from any discussions in which a continuation of the status quo on drug policy is contemplated.

How could the average citizen not get a serious case of the munchies just thinking about a cloud of cognitive dissonance and the hypocrisy seeping like smoke from under closed doors at the Obama White House whenever drug policy comes up?

Just when Democrats were beginning to believe President Obama was finally prepared to govern as a pragmatic progressive during his second term, unmistakable signs that he's willing to continue the four-decade-long, trillion-dollar boondoggle known as the War on Drugs are already manifesting themselves.

"One option is for federal prosecutors to bring some cases against low-level marijuana users of the sort they until now have rarely bothered with, waiting for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because the drug is now legal in that state," Mr. Savage wrote. "The [DOJ] could then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state one."

By even contemplating a ramping up of the draconian drug policies of his first term, Mr. Obama is poised to turn the contact high engendered by his historic trouncing of Mitt Romney and the Tea Party into the shortest post-election "buzz" in history.

According to Mr. Savage's piece, the Obama White House is feeling the heat from the usual stakeholders in the $20-billion-a-year drug prohibition racket. Law enforcement is "alarmed at the prospect that marijuana users in both states could get used to flouting federal law openly."

No doubt. The entire federal drug war apparatus has a lot to lose if marijuana is removed from the list of drugs covered under the federal Controlled Substances Act. How long will it be until logic and constitutional consistency dictate a similar loosening of the prohibition against "harder" drugs? Decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana takes billions out of the hands of feckless bureaucrats.

All of the police powers that the local, state and federal government have accumulated since President Richard Nixon fired the first salvo in the War on Drugs are directly threatened by the public's weariness with this farcical, losing campaign. The drug war and the criminal enterprises it created are directly and indirectly responsible for the incarceration of the majority of the country's 2 million prisoners.

As Mr. Savage points out, navigating the politics of how to respond to marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado isn't easy for the Obama administration "because marijuana legalization is popular among liberal Democrats who just turned out to re-elect him."

If Mr. Obama's Justice Department is stupid enough to prosecute citizens in Washington and Colorado for smoking grass, it will make it impossible for a lot of young folks to turn out for the Democrats in 2014 and 2016. The coalition that worked so well for Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012 will splinter as disenchanted voters drift toward the relative "sanity" of the Libertarian Party.

If the Republicans were truly interested in winning another national election, they'll embrace social libertarianism -- including gay marriage -- and run to Mr. Obama's left on the drug war.

Democrats must be smoking something if they imagine they can throw their own voters in jail and still count on their support down the road.

The first Republican presidential candidate to announce that he (or she) has had enough of drug task forces, "reefer madness," expanded police surveillance powers and the budget-crushing growth of private and public prison networks will win the GOP nomination and, perhaps the presidency. What a long, strange trip that will be.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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