Marijuana Legalization: Why Obama Will Eventually Support It


The Obama administration's decision not to support marijuana legislation should not come as a surprise given their situation. With all the recent scandals surfacing that reflect negatively on the administration, their decision is a conservative attempt at damage control. However, this stance might change over the remainder of Obama's presidency, like the administration's original opposition to gay marriage changed in order to align with popular opinion. At this point, the Obama administration's primary concern is being on the right side of history, as is evidenced by the uncertainty of the White House's latest official statement to the press. It is likely that the administration will change their position at a later time when it has repaired its rapport with the American people and public support grows to a point where a pro-legalization stance is less controversial.

In a recent statement given by principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, the nation learned that "The president does not at this point support a change in the law" concerning marijuana. The phrase "at this point" undermines the certainty of the administration's stance because it implies that there is room for revision at a later juncture. This is reinforced by Earnest's explanation that "While the prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority, the president and the administration believe that targeting individual marijuana users — especially those with serious illnesses and their caregivers — is not the best allocation of federal law enforcement resources." Clearly, the Obama administration is not firmly committed to its position.

Rather, the administration is limiting its vulnerability in light of recent scandals and adhering to an American tradition of anti-drug policies dating back to Reagan's infamous campaign. Public concern over the government's involvement in the PRISM/Snowden scandal, Benghazi, Egypt, Syria, and international drone strikes, as well as the administration's inability to address widespread unemployment, economic issues, and stalls in Congress already weigh heavily upon an exhausted presidency. Committing to what many would consider a controversial stance on a hotly debated topic could add to their troubles, despite popular support in favor of legalization.

According to recent polls, 52% of Americans support legalization, meaning a large portion of the country still does not. The fact that there is not a significant majority in support makes the issue contentious, and the Obama administration will wait before deciding to endorse the winning side. For example, as recently as October 2010, the administration did not support gay marriage, when polls showed that there was much lower public support than in 2013. By the time the administration endorsed gay marriage, majority of Americans were in support of the initiative according to this report published prior to the government's change of position. 

The White House also flip-flopped concerning the suspension of Bush-era tax cuts, timely withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and elimination of Guantanamo Bay Prison. The American people should expect inconsistency from the Obama administration regarding the legalization of marijuana as well.