National Drug Control Policy Director and the U.S.’s top drug enforcer Gil Kerlikowske made headlines earlier this year when his office issued a memo admitting for the first time that the U.S. is “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.” The short memo was released in response to three popular petitions submitted through the White House’s citizens’ petition website ‘We The People’. One of the petitions, whose 84,000 signatures make it among the most highly supported petitions on the website, poses this question to the Obama Administration: “Should the government remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substance Act and allow the states to decide how they want to regulate it?” Apart from stating that a “serious national conversation” is occurring over legalization of marijuana, Kerlikowske’s memo did not offer much else, instead he asked readers to reference President Obama’s interview with Barbara Walters about his administration’s stance on pot.
An excerpt of the interview included in the memo quoted Obama as stating, “[A]t this point, [in] Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal . . . And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.”
Though Kerlikowske’s memo is far from confirming that the U.S. will pursue alternatives to it’s current war on marijuana, it is a stark shift from just a few years ago when Kerlikowske stated that “legalization is not in my vocabulary and it’s not in the President’s” Kerlikowske, who spent most of his career as a police chief, is not the only conservative personality who has recently changed his tune about marijuana legalization.
Highly conservative political commentator Glenn Beck feels that, “it’s about time we legalize marijuana . . . this little game we are playing in the middle is not helping us, it is not helping Mexico and it is causing massive violence on our southern border.” Ultra-conservative Tea Party member and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin agrees, stating that, “We need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts, and if somebody’s gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm, then perhaps there are other things that our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up.” Even conservative Christian and former Southern Baptist Minister Pat Robertson feels that the U.S. is in dire need of a change in its drug policy: “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”
With an ever-increasing number of supporters on both sides of the congressional aisle, it is not hard to see that popular opinion on marijuana is quickly shifting. Of course, what will really matter to U.S. citizens is the extent the Obama administration will actually shift enforcement priorities, government budgets and the current federal prohibition of marijuana.
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