Obama on drugs: “I am not in favor of legalization.”

During this YouTube Q&A, the President responded to a question from a member of LEAP stating that he is not in favor of legalization though he does support addressing drug use as a public health concern, considering drug courts and other alternatives for non-violent drug offenders, reducing demand and getting resources to treatment.

It is encouraging to hear a nuanced, thoughtful, and sensible position from the President and we encourage him to continue to find the courage and fortitude to follow this up with real policy change while putting the brakes on the legalization march at the State level.


Here’s the full transcript:

Mackenzie Allen: “Good evening Mr. President. My name is Mackenzie Allen. I’m a retired law enforcement officer and member of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). The so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has been waged for 40 years at a cost of a trillion dollars and thousands of lives with nothing to show for it, but increased supplies, cheaper drugs and a dramatic increase in violence associated with the underworld drug market. Sir, do you think there will or should come a time for us to discuss the possibility of legalization, regulation and control of all drugs–thereby doing away with the violent criminal market, as well as a major source of funding for international terrorism? Thank you so much for your time, Mr. President.”

President Barack Obama: “Well, I think this is a entirely legitimate topic for debate. I am not in favor of legalization. I am a strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem. When you think about other damaging activities in our society – smoking, drunk driving, making sure you’re wearing seatbelts – typically we’ve made huge strides over the last 20, 30 years by changing people’s attitudes. And on drugs I think that a lot of times we have been so focused on arrest, incarceration, interdiction that we don’t spend as much time thinking about ‘how do we shrink demand?’ And this is something that within the White House we are looking at very carefully. As I said…”

Moderator: “Any ideas?”

The President: “Well, some of this requires shifting resources, being strategic–where does it make sense for us to really focus on interdiction? We have to go after drug cartels that not only are selling drugs, but are also creating havoc, for example, along the US-Mexican border. But, are there ways that we can also shrink demand. In some cities, for example, it may take six months for you to get into a drug treatment program. If you’re trying to kick a habit and somebody says to you, ‘come back in six months,’ that’s pretty discouraging. So we’ve gotta do more in figuring out how can we get some resources on that end of it. And make sure that–and also look at what we’re doing when we have nonviolent first-time drug offenders. Are there ways that we can make sure that we’re steering them into the straight and narrow without automatically resorting to incarceration–drug courts, mechanisms like that. These are all issues that are worth a serious debate.”