Obama: Drug Legalization “Worth a Serious Debate”

Legalizing recreational drugs in the United States “is an entirely legitimate topic for debate,” President Barack Obama said yesterday during an online chat session moderated by YouTube. He was responding to a retired deputy sheriff whose question criticizing the War on Drugs had been voted the most popular during the web video site’s “Your Interview With the President” competition. 

While Obama quickly added that he’s “not in favor of legalization,” his comments went further than those of any past past president in questioning the wisdom of a drug policy based on arrests and incarceration. It was also a significant break from Obama’s own rhetoric. During an online address in 2009, he’d dismissed outright a popular question about whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy, chuckling as he said, “No, I don’t think that’s a good strategy.”

Obama’s statement will probably to score points with people who favor pot legalization—according to some polls, nearly half of all Americans. In early 2009, he earned kudos from potheads when the Justice Department announced that it would stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws. In recent months, however, the IRS has intensified audits of California pot dispensaries, where marijuana is a $14-billion business with ties to venture capitalists and Wall Street (as I document in a recent feature, Weedmart).

Here’s Obama yesterday, in his own words: