That limited endorsement of legalized marijuana goes farther than he (or any other sitting president) has ever gone on this issue. It also puts the president in rare agreement with National Review's editorial board. Obama's evolution made me curious about what his most recent National Drug Control Strategy documents have said about pot.
Here's an excerpt from the 2010 version (emphasis added throughout):
Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use. Diagnostic, laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological studies clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects, and legalization would only exacerbate these problems.
Here's a passage from 2011:
The Administration steadfastly opposes drug legalization. Legalization runs counter to a public health approach to drug control because it would increase the availability of drugs, reduce their price, undermine prevention activities, hinder recovery support efforts, and pose a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth. Many “quick fixes” for America’s complex drug problem have been presented throughout our country’s history. In the past half-century, these proposals have included calls for allowing the legal sale and use of marijuana. However, the complex policy issues concerning drug use and the disease of addiction do not lend themselves to such simple solutions.
Here's a passage from 2012:
While the Administration supports ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine, to date, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine has found the marijuana plant itself to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition. The Administration also recognizes that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.
And here's a passage from 2013:
The President’s inaugural 2010 National Drug Control Strategy laid out a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to reducing drug use and its consequences in theUnitedStates. In doing so, the Administration charted a “third way” in drug policy, a path that rejects the opposing extremes of legalization or a law enforcement-only “war on drugs.” Rather, the Strategy pursues a 21st century approach to drug policy that balances public health programs, effective law enforcement, and international partnerships.
We're unlikely to see a 2014 National Drug Control Strategy that says, "It's important for legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington to go forward." At least we now know that's due to the inertia of a federal bureaucracy filled with drug warriors, not the actual position of an elected official accountable to voters (a majority of whom actually now favor marijuana legalization).