Obama: Decriminalize pot
Article published Jan 31, 2008
January 31, 2008
By Jen Haberkorn - DEVELOPING STORY: Updated 8:52 a.m.
Last fall during a nationally televised presidential debate, Sen.
Barack Obama hesitantly raised his hand and joined with most of his
Democratic rivals to declare that he opposed decriminalizing marijuana.
But as a candidate for the U.S. Senate four years ago, Mr. Obama told
Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal
penalties for marijuana use or possession, according to a videotape
of a little noticed debate that was obtained by The Washington Times.
"I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws,"
Mr. Obama told an audience during a debate at Northwestern University
in 2004. "But I'm not somebody who believes in legalization of
Asked about the two different answers, Mr. Obama's presidential
campaign said he in fact has "always" supported decriminalizing
marijuana as he answered in 2004, meaning the candidate mistakenly
raised his hand during the presidential debate last fall.
That position leaves Mr. Obama as the lone presidential candidate
among the four leading challengers in either party who supports
eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana. Mr. Obama's chief rival
for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, opposes
decriminalization, Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said.
On the Republican side, Kevin Madden, spokesman for Mitt Romney, said
the former Massachusetts governor is "not in favor of legalization of
marijuana, and that includes medical purposes."
The campaign for Arizona Sen. John McCain did not respond immediately
to questions. But the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates
decriminalization, says both Republicans have told its supporters
they oppose that move, including in medical cases.
When asked by The Times about decriminalizing marijuana, the Obama
campaign reiterated the candidate's opposition to legalization.
"Senator Obama does not believe in legalization of marijuana, but
agrees with President Bush that long minimum sentences for first-time
drug users may not be the best way to occupy jail space or heal
people from their disease," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
The campaign went on to say that, as president, Mr. Obama "will
review drug sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and
reduce the blind and counterproductive sentencing of non-violent
offenders, and revisit instances where drug rehabilitation may be
more appropriate." His campaign later stated that Mr. Obama "always"
has supported decriminalizing marijuana.
Mr. Obama's differing answers on marijuana are among a half-dozen
conflicts between positions he took while running for Senate in 2004
and those he now articulates while running for president, a review of
debate tapes shows. Other conflicts
range from ending the embargo against Cuba to providing health care
for illegal immigrants.
The Times obtained video footage of the public debates from a variety
of sources, ranging from open sources such as YouTube to political
operatives who oppose Mr. Obama's presidential campaign or his Senate
bid four years ago in Illinois. Mrs. Clinton's campaign, for
instance, recently released footage on its Web site of a 2004 speech
in which Mr. Obama spoke about universal health care.
Check back for a full report on Mr. Obama's conflicting positions in
tomorrow's editions of the newspaper.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
1623 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20009
202.293.4414 (p) 202.293.8344 (f)www.SchoolsNotPrisons.com
Contribute to SSDP: http://www.ssdp.org/donate
Sign up for SSDP news and action alerts at http://www.ssdp.org/signup/