Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jan 2014
Source: Reporter, The (Lansdale, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Reporter
Author: Danny Westneat, The Seattle Times.


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 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 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 it 
probably should have been treated the same as, say, drinking vodka. 
So the antipot 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 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: Jay Bergstrom