In his first Internet town hall meeting, Obama was asked if the U.S. should legalize pot as a way to grow jobs and stimulate the economy.
Obama responded: “I don’t know what this says about the online audience, but, no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow the economy.”
Now of course he has to say this. His risk of alienating a large portion of the country and losing all support from the proverbial “aisles” is far too great for such a radical idea. But what if the question included avoiding US involvement in the Mexican drug war? Are we going to wait until our politicians, judges and law enforcement officials are infiltrated by the Mexican traffickers before we even consider a novel approach to a problem we have been throwing money and guns at (unsuccessfully) for years?
George McGovern reportedly once said, “I am fed up with a system which busts the pot smoker and lets the big dope racketeer go free.” McGovern was crushed by Nixon in part because the overwhelming majority of voters were staunchly opposed to drugs and didn’t make the same distinctions that McGovern did.
A local example of changing public attitudes towards drugs is the recent momentum of New York lawmakers to trash the 70’s-era, strict mandatory sentences for even the lowest level drug offenders. This is a reflection of New York’s current climate—high levels of public safety and a desire to save tax dollars for something other than locking up drug users.
So yes, McGovern lost horribly to Nixon and learned the hard way that America was not ready for his message. Perhaps Obama believes the moral climate is not ready for him to consider any legalization of marijuana. However, despite what he says on the public stage the winds of change maybe still blowing. Read a quote from the same NY Times article.
Three years ago, the Mexican Congress passed a plan to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cocaine and other drugs, but Vicente Fox, then the president, killed the bill after American officials raised an alarm. Mr. Calderón made a similar proposal last fall, albeit lowering the amounts still further, and this time American officials did not utter a peep.
This is perhaps a small sign that officials in both Mexico and the United States are having doubts that a “War on Drugs” can be won in the traditional manner. Despite concerted efforts by the Mexican government, there were 6,200 drug related killings in 2008, a more than 100 percent increase. The traffickers are paramilitaries with more financial and military resources than the government, and, if left unchecked, will create a failed state out of Mexico.
It appears clear that Mexico is not going to be able to take care of itself, and it is equally clear that the US has its hands tied by two wars in the Middle East and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. So do we wait until we have evidence that Calderon himself is on the books of the narcos? The last thing we need is rampant legalization; drugs like meth and heroin are far more destructive than marijuana, for example. However, now might be a good time for Obama to re-examine the consequences of “The Noble Experiment”, or the US Prohibition of alcohol, and have the CIA draft him some effective, alternative contingency plans.
MA Candidate at CLACS and in Journalism