By Alice Salles
When celebrity website Radar Online shared a video of Malia Obama allegedly smoking marijuana at Lollapalooza in Chicago last week, the internet came to her defense.
On Twitter, comedian Chris Rock suggested she could one day be an Olympic gold medalist — or even president of the United States. Other users complained about those criticizing Malia by telling them to “let her live!”
But has anyone touched on Malia Obama’s father’s reluctance to embrace personal freedom outside the boundaries of his own household?
This Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a response to petitioners asking the government to remove the “Schedule I” classification of marijuana. In a letter, DEA leadership maintained its refusals to give in to proponents of legalization. In an interview, Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the DEA, said the decision is due to the fact that “science doesn’t support” the notion marijuana may be used for medical ends — a narrative that has previously been debunked by several studies.
But in 25 states and the District of Columbia, medical marijuana is already legal to some degree, which effectively nullifies the federal decision in practice.
Despite Malia’s apparent acceptance of the substance — and the Internet’s apparent resistance to finding anything contradictory about her father’s positions on drug policy — President Obama had, by early 2013, been harsher on marijuana users than former President George W. Bush, Reason observed. “In other words,” Jacob Sullum wrote, “Obama is averaging 36 medical marijuana prosecutions a year, compared to 20 a year under his predecessor.” Even the Huffington Post has reported that when it comes to pot, Obama has a highly hypocritical stance, ignoring his own history and promises.
In the article “Obama’s Hypocritical War on Marijuana,” Ethan Nadelmann wrote that “in the past two years it has been difficult to distinguish Obama’s drug policies from those of his White House predecessors.” And although he has, for the first time in history, acknowledged that the topic of legalization should be debated, “his administration has made a string of increasingly disappointing moves over the last year.”
In 2010 alone, 850,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana. In 88 percent of the cases, Nadelmann reported, individuals were arrested for “mere possession.”
Recently, Obama commuted the sentences of 348 individuals “serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” the White House bragged. By March, when the count of commuted sentences was at 248, the Washington Post reported that at least 61 individuals granted with the presidential pardon had been arrested for drug-related crimes. Most were associated with cocaine possession.
In spite of this end-of-presidency effort, Obama could have done more.
In January 2014, he said it wasn’t his job to reschedule marijuana. Instead, he said, Congress should step up. But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) explained the law allows “reclassification administratively.” According to the Controlled Substance Act, the Attorney General may “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”
“It’s very unfortunate that President Obama appears to want to pass the buck to Congress when it comes to marijuana laws,” said Tom Angell, the chairman of Marijuana Majority. “If the president truly believes what he says about marijuana, he has a moral imperative to make the law match up with his views and the views of the majority of the American people, without delay,” he added.
The director of federal policies for Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Dan Riffle, also confirmed that marijuana rescheduling “is not ‘a job for Congress,’ as the president says. … The whole point of the law is to set up a process for scheduling of drugs and delegate it to the executive branch so Congress doesn’t have to concern itself with that level of minutia.”
But the criticism wasn’t enough to change the president’s mind. As the DEA refuses to look at the matter — perhaps due to a lack of pressure from the Obama administration — marijuana legalization proponents continue to act locally instead.
And as the president’s daughter enjoys her youth under the public eye — and with their support — we can only hope state legislatures act fast enough to keep other young minorities out of jail for possession.