Obama: “I am not in favor of (drug) legalization” During YouTube Q&A

From YouTube: President Obama answered the most asked question by YouTubers during his Q&A session from January 27, 2011. The question, dealing with the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana, was asked by Mackenzie Allen–a former law enforcement official and current member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

The President said he was against legalization, but gave a much more open-minded answer than his dismissive retort to a similar question on marijuana during an online town hall last year. He said the issue is worthy of debate and signaled that he’s in favor of changing the attitude of approaching non-violent drug addiction from one of criminalization to one of treatment.

However, Obama seemed unwilling to consider that the cartels are being strengthened by prohibition–insisting that “we must continue to go after the cartels.”

What do you think of the President’s answer?

Here’s the full transcript for this question:

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.”