President Obama suggests a change in the war on drugs

On Thursday, a Youtube video with President Obama addressing the question as to whether he would consider drug legalization, circulated widely on the internet.

In response to a question posed from MacKenzie Allen, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a retired deputy sheriff, Obama was clear with his position that he is not endorsing legalization, but that he wants to consider health policy alternatives to criminalization. Obama’s response was a marked turnaround compared with former US presidents who have resoundingly favoured the war on drugs and hard line criminalization.

As the Huffington Post accurately noted, Obama is lending legitimacy to a policy area long-relegated to the fringes of mainstream American political discourse. In fact, Huffington Post reporter Ryan Grim claims Obama went further with his remarks than any other president has since the start of the war on drugs, which can be traced back at least to President Richard Nixon.

While it’s true that the issue of legalization, harm reduction and public health approaches to drugs have been neglected by most politicians, Obama’s remarks may be indicative of the public’s outlook on the war on drugs. Some of the public has made a point to get drug legalization on the table and has persistently asked Obama about the matter in the annual Youtube poll.

It is worth noting, (as this Washington Post article did), that Youtube users ranked questions about the nation’s drug policy higher than any other subject, including competition with China, deportations, and the Super Bowl. And the popularity of the debate over drug policy is not new for Americans. The Washington Post claims that there were at least three other times during virtual town halls (which are arguably more open and democratic than formal press conferences), when the President was flooded with drug policy questions.

Perhaps the most memorable incident took place during the 2009 Youtube poll, when Obama laughed off a question about whether taxing marijuana would help improve the national economy. Legalization advocates were angered by his laughter.

However this time, unlike in 2009, Obama gave some very serious consideration to the question that is on American’s minds. In particular he stated, “I think a lot of times we have been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction, that we don’t spend as much time thinking ‘how do we shrink demand?’ and this is something that within the White House we are looking at very carefully.”

Recently, an article posted on stated, “The staggering vote count and significant media coverage of the demand for discussion of drug policy in today’s YouTube interview were too great to ignore.”

Obama said that he is aware of the need to shift resources toward health rather than toward criminalization. And for now that’s a start we’re happy about.

Watch Obama’s response to the legalization question here:

What do you think about Obama’s remarks? Post your comments below for discussion about the war on drugs and the legalization debate.

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