Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jan 2014
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2014 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Danny Westneat, Seattle Times.
Page: 20


SOMETIMES SEA changes come so slowly that, when they finally arrive,
they barely make it into the news.

So it was the other day when President Obama, in a magazine interview,
said that marijuana, long classified as one of our worst drugs, is
really about the same as alcohol.

"As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as
a bad habit and a vice," Obama said. "I don't think it is more
dangerous than alcohol."

This story ran on Page A6 of the Seattle Times. That's probably
because the implication of these words - that pot should be legalized,
or at a minimum, decriminalized - has already been embraced by voters
here. It's another example of how the "change" president has spent his
years mostly following big cultural changes, not leading them.

Still, that the president just declared a major plank of the War on
Drugs to have been wrongheaded is big news. So big that his own Office
of National Drug Control Policy hasn't gotten the memo.

"The administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and
other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and
use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to
all Americans," the drug czar's website says.

Well, alcohol poses significant health and safety risks, too. It's
just not a crime to drink, which is the key distinction.

Obama wasn't encouraging pot use - at least to my ears. He was saying
that it makes no sense to treat people as criminals for it.

Why have we been doing so for 40-plus years?

I guess this all strikes me as a big deal because I came of age in the
"Just Say No" time of zero, or little, tolerance. The hypocrisy of
arresting 700,000 people a year for what most politicians themselves
had probably done got so thick it led to that uncomfortable era of
"urine-test journalism," when we reporters would go around grilling
politicians about whether they'd ever smoked pot.

After youthful marijuana use felled a U.S. Supreme Court nominee,
Douglas Ginsburg, in the late 1980s, it became a litmus-test question
even in local politics. I remember a King County, Wash., executive
candidate, Bruce Hilyer, who later became a Superior Court judge,
fumbling the question at a televised debate and staring flummoxed into
the cameras. (He eventually admitted to smoking pot when he was
younger, and went on to win the primary but lost the general election.)

Well, now we have the president of the United States saying that it
probably should have been treated the same as, say, drinking vodka.

So the anti-pot criminal crusade was a decades-long governmental
mistake. Sorry about that! Some critics are bashing Obama for
encouraging nationwide dope smoking, but he was actually pretty
negative about it, calling it "a waste of time and not very healthy."

He also pointed out, correctly I think, that "the experiment taking
place in Colorado and Washington is going to be a challenge."

Will pot use here in Washington rise? Maybe.

Will there be more drug addiction or abuse?

Will it spark a drive to legalize harder drugs? Obama raised the
specter of that.

Right now my neighborhood is having some second thoughts about the
experiment. A nearby corner is zoned for pot shops, and, depending on
licensing decisions, could end up with as many as half a dozen in one
block. "Little Amsterdam," some are calling it, in protest.

But Obama's alcohol comparison is apt. You wouldn't want six liquor
stores in a block, either, and we've figured out ways as a city to
keep that from happening.

The experiment here might fail - such as if a lot more kids start
smoking - and then we'll have to try something else.

But, for my entire life honest talk about the drug issue has seemed
impossible, because of the hectoring, shaming stance of the government
and hypocrisy of the lawmakers (remember "I didn't inhale"?).

It really is a big change now just to hear a different tone.
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MAP posted-by: Matt