On Sunday, January 19th, social media began to buzz as President Barack Obama discussed cannabis legalization with David Remnick for the New Yorker.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” said Obama in the interview. “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
As this language was a dramatic departure from the actions of the federal government in the past, it drew many incredulous comments. Hadn’t we been promised similar things in the past, only to have them never materialize? The Obama administration has shut down more dispensaries than his three predecessors combined. What about his US Attorneys, the over-zealous DEA, and other law enforcement agencies?
PATH Consulting’s Managing Director legal expert James Anthony has a somewhat more hopeful take on Obama’s statement. “No president since Jimmy Carter has taken as explicitly a non-negative verging on pro-legalization position. As for the DOJ and the DEA, supposedly they work for him. We’ll see. But we are, finally, in the midst of something different enough that real change is possible. Mid-second term Obama was always our best opportunity. There was never any real reason to hope for change in his first term, it was just a long shot. Now everything bends towards legalization. He’ll do what he can. And if we don’t blow it, we could be all the way there in the next 8-10 years nationwide.”
If Anthony is right, the next two years will be a very exciting time for cannabis legalization. If Obama’s very public statements truly mark a sea change in national policy, we are about to usher in a new era of legal—or at least tolerated—state regulated cannabis economic activity.