It was a costly venture from the start, but to date the war on drugs, declared in 1971, has cost the United States over $15 billion. This year, over 7,000 people have been jailed on drug law offenses in the United States.
Despite these alarming statistics, the United States loosened its tight grip on drug laws today by announcing that the federal government will change its laws so as to not challenge the legalization of marijuana in several states. It seems that Obama and his administration have come full circle, returning to their original stance on the drug.
Interestingly, though, this announcement comes only a week after a statement by the White House was made stating that Obama did not support changing federal laws that regulate marijuana.
Obama’s views, though, were not always so vehemently against marijuana. In the early years of his administration, Obama was in favor of leaving marijuana laws up to the states. His administration worked to acknowledge the use of medical marijuana and promised to make decisions based on science, rather than ideology.
However, as states began to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012, Obama and his administration began a severe crackdown on the drug. State police targeted dispensaries, while memos were issued by the federal government to states about funding and gun control in relation to marijuana. The government even released a statement saying that medical marijuana had no effect on patients, and was an unnecessary treatment.
Amidst this heightened drug war was the president himself, caught between personal experiences with the drug (as published in his book), pressures from the drug administration staff, and both federal and state concerns.
It's easy to see why Obama’s ideas changed so much over the course of his two terms. Pressures from all sides made decision-making hard, especially when many in his own administration disagreed on the state of marijuana.
The decision to not challenge legalization, though, whether or not Obama personally agrees with it, is a huge step forward for the administration. They are finally recognizing the exponential cost of the ineffective drug war, both in terms of federal dollars and in terms of the lives of the thousands jailed for drug related charges.
As Obama stated last year, the administration has “bigger fish to fry” than going after marijuana users. And it makes sense — things like wars abroad (hello, Syria!) and even simply more serious drugs require more attention than marijuana, a drug which, according to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, does not have high potential for abuse and actually has legitimate medical benefits.
Time will tell on the legalization process across the rest of the United States. However, the 20 where marijuana is legalized to some degree can relax a little — they no longer need to fear the big bad federal government taking away even more funding … for now, at least.