The recent multi-agency federal raid of Oaksterdam University, a respected medical marijuana trade school in Oakland, has many people struggling to understand the Obama Administration's escalating campaign against medical cannabis. Most pernicious among these theories is an idea I've heard repeatedly from medical marijuana supporters in recent weeks: that Obama needs to take a tough stance as he gears up for the general election.
It's an easy enough thing to say, but it's wrong, and people who want to change our marijuana laws would be wise to stop talking this way. The truth is that the American people don't want a war on medical marijuana at all, and we're steering our leaders in the wrong direction -- both morally and politically -- when we suggest that voters support the reckless drug war posturing of the past.
Sure, there was a time when politicians fanned the flames of anti-drug hysteria to powerful political effect. Knowing this history is important, but equally critical is the recognition that history, by definition, lies behind us. The "crack epidemic" of the '80s, the death of Len Bias, the "soft on crime" attack ads that ravaged democratic nominee Mike Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign; these were events of political significance, but they're a terrible measure by which to assess the implications of an issue like medical marijuana in an election nearly a quarter century later.
In fact, the question of whether Obama can safely stand up for medical marijuana is incredibly easy to answer. He already did. The president was elected on a platform that included pulling the plug on federal interference with state medical marijuana laws. Everyone knew that was his position, many supported it vigorously and perhaps more significantly, no one criticized him for it.
To even suggest that Obama has to appear "tough on drugs" in order to deflect political attacks is preposterous. What political attacks? When have we ever heard him criticized for any such thing? There is literally no constituency in the American electorate that is pressuring Obama to wage war against medical marijuana. The president could, in all likelihood, speak passionately in favor of medical marijuana from now until November without losing a single vote (and picking up more than a few for his trouble). To explain this, one need only look to the polls showing that eight out of 10 Americans support medical marijuana.
If anyone in the Obama Administration actually believes they're scoring political points by waging war on voter-approved medical marijuana laws, they've got another thing coming. In 2012, the smart political approach to marijuana policy is to look at today's polling, not yesterday's posturing.