President Obama's job is tough enough, but with the November passage of Colorado's Amendment 64 and Washington State's similar bill passage, President Obama is faced with a bigger problem than the 39 percent of Americans who oppose pot legalization. He's faced with the task of deciding whether it is more important to assert the dominance of the federal government over the states, or whether to cede that power, thus weakening an already lackluster federal government.
There can be little question that marijuana is safer than both cigarettes and alcohol, and so the real debate over legalization, at least until this past election, was on whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug – a stepping stone to other, more dangerous and life threatening/addictive substances. (It's not. Alcohol on the other hand, has proven to be the number one gateway drug of choice for addicts who have abused heavier substances.) Secondarily the debate has generally, in recent years, revolved around the issue of allowing doctors rather than politicians to decide treatment options for their patients.
The choice by Colorado and Washington voters to legalize the recreation use of marijuana this past November, gave depth to and yet changed the nature of the argument.
The president told Barbara Walters in December, that he has no interest in cracking down on legal marijuana users in Washington and Colorado, but pot advocates are not convinced They've heard similar statements from the president who shortly before cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries, said that he would not be doing so.
He may not have a vested interest in cracking down on pot users, but it's tough to say whether he can afford to ignore that Colorado and Washington have chosen to defy the will of the federal government, subverting its decades-old war on drugs – no matter how ill advised that war might be.
Can the federal government afford to allow the debate to change the course of national politics and cede power to the states? Or does asserting federal authority matter more to the whole? Will the president choose to avoid the power struggle altogether in favor of choosing a debate that centers around marijuana itself rather than facing the gauntlet laid down by Washington and Colorado when voters made a choice to defy the federal government's war on drugs?
Politics is about winning and never giving up ground or power, but Barack Obama, the king of compromise, seems more interested in doing what's right than in maintaining a power structure. Indeed, the president compromises with foes to the point of almost seeming, at times, to be the whipping boy.
Does the president have the backbone to focus the marijuana debate on marijuana? Or will he instead, create a power struggle that puts the states at odds with their government? It could be that this is one of the best times in history for President Obama to be the sort of compromising man he's proven himself to be, but for pot users, it might also be the worst time in history to follow a weak-willed president who most times would rather compromise his values for the sake of moving a nation forward.
Marijuana, by itself is a no-brainer issue. It should have been legalized 20 years ago. The argument has however, fundamentally shifted. Do states have a right to defy the will of the federal government when it lays down contrary law? We'll find out soon enough. Pot's not dangerous. Politicans are – and frankly, the world might be a better place if they'd all just hotbox the capitol building.