Tuesday, June 19, 2012

cool head, main thing...,




reason | The first stories to emerge from pre-release copies of Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss' new biography of the president, have centered on Obama's youthful enthusiasm for marijuana. As a scholarship student at Hawaii's exclusive Punahou prep school, Obama embraced pot-smoking with his friends in the "Choom Gang." He was even competitive about it, preaching "total absorption" (hold the smoke in so that little or none comes out when you exhale) and calling "Interception!" when he grabbed a joint to take a hit out of turn.

How do you square Obama's youthful passion for pot (he continued smoking it well into college, only to phase it out, more or less, after graduating) with the Obama administration's aggressive enforcement of federal anti-pot laws in states where medical marijuana has been legalized? The president who acknowledged his youthful drug use in his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father ("I had learned not to care. Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it") offered Rolling Stone a lame justification for heightened enforcement on his watch earlier this year: "I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, 'Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books.' What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.' As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes."

Never mind that prosecutorial discretion just is "ignoring" a law in order to focus on what's really doing damage. And never mind that neither marijuana nor the pot-growing industry—nor even "a little blow"—seems to have done any noticeable damage to Obama. Penn Jillette spoke for many when he declared Obama a hypocrite on drug policy.

But is Obama a hypocrite? A liar? A strategically adept politician trying to immunize himself from charges that he's soft on drugs? Is he simply waiting for the right moment to tell us his position on marijuana has "evolved," running just a bit behind his evolved position on same-sex marriage? Maraniss' book doesn't try to answer these vexing current questions, but it does give readers several clues why the youthful, exuberant pothead Barry Obama may have tolerated or even encouraged federal anti-marijuana enforcement on his watch.