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Obama's Embarrassing Silence on Marijuana

Somehow our policymakers have managed to turn this mostly-helpful plant into a massive international fiasco that's becoming increasingly difficult to deal with.
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One thing you can bet we won't hear anyone talking about at the Democratic National Convention is marijuana. Nobody will be discussing how bad it is, how good it is or even acknowledging that it exists. Then, at the end of the day, a not-insignificant number of attendees will be getting high at every hotel in Charlotte and bitching about what a buzzkill Mitt Romney is.

It sounds silly to even suggest that marijuana would get a mention at our nation's biggest political showcase. Of course it won't, and I actually agree, in theory, that it shouldn't. But somehow our policymakers have managed to turn this mostly-helpful plant into a massive international fiasco that's becoming increasingly difficult to deal with from one day to the next.

I've heard many democrats address Obama's handling of the marijuana issue by asking, "what do you expect?" and I'm happy to answer them. I expect change. Absent that, I expect an explanation. An explanation is something you ought to have when you're arresting millions of people to protect them from a piece of plant material they put in their own pocket. The billions we spend trying to stop people from relaxing in this particular fashion should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other enormous amount of money our government spends, if not far more.

So, in June, I went through the appropriate channels to try to get that explanation. At an event in Washington, D.C., I asked Obama's drug czar whether marijuana users should be arrested and forced into drug treatment. His answer wasn't very helpful. From Reason:

The other good question came from Scott Morgan, of, who asked if Kerlikowske supported compulsory treatment of casual drug users, and if arresting marijuana users and forcing them into treatment was an effective policy. This time, Kerlikowske played dumb.

"Again, that's a bit of a myth. If someone's arrested for a small amount of marijuana, and the determination is made they have to go into treatment, treatment beds and space are a valuable commodity. I think professionals can clearly assess when someone is in need of treatment. Compulsory treatment is not something I'm as familiar with in great detail at the local level."

If the drug czar isn't "familiar with" the punishments for marijuana possession and can't defend them, who can? His answer got worse from there, if you can believe it, and it's exactly this kind of convoluted incoherent crap that defines our drug policy and paralyzes efforts to fix anything about it. One minute they're saying we don't arrest people and force them to into treatment, then they're saying we have to do something aggressive to send the right message, and then they close by insisting that the system is working fine, whatever the heck it is.

Meanwhile, we lead the world in incarceration and we've got a gigantic drug war bloodbath bubbling under our southern border and nobody knows what to do about it. Nobody, that is, except the emerging majority of Americans who believe that marijuana shouldn't be illegal in the first place. Even as the Obama Administration is doing everything it can to alienate supporters of reform, a legalization measure is activating young voters and out-polling the president in a battleground state that might make or break the whole election. To say nothing at all at a time such as this is embarrassing indeed, and reeks of unpreparedness for a discussion that obviously matters a great deal to a great number of people.

Obama knows enough about public relations, and enough about marijuana, that you would think he could explain our current policies to us if any reasonable explanation existed. In that sense, his continued silence speaks volumes.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America's failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.