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Opinion

January 25, 2014

Pot talk is breath of fresh air

NORMAN — Sometimes sea changes come so slowly that when they finally arrive, they barely make it into the news.

So it was the other day when President Obama, in a magazine interview, said that marijuana, long classified as one of our worst drugs, is really about the same as alcohol.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice,” Obama said. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

This story ran on Page A6 of The Seattle Times. That’s probably because the implication of these words — that pot should be legalized, or at a minimum, decriminalized — has already been embraced by voters here. It’s another example of how the “change” president has spent his years mostly following big cultural changes, not leading them.

Still, that the president just declared a major plank of the War on Drugs to have been wrongheaded is big news. So big that his own Office of National Drug Control Policy hasn’t gotten the memo.

“The administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans,” the drug czar’s website says.

Well, alcohol poses significant health and safety risks, too. It’s just not a crime to drink, which is the key distinction. Obama wasn’t encouraging pot use — at least to my ears. He was saying it makes no sense to treat people as criminals for it.

Why have we been doing so for 40-plus years?

I guess this all strikes me as a big deal because I came of age in the “Just Say No” time of zero, or little, tolerance. The hypocrisy of arresting 700,000 people a year for what most politicians themselves had probably done got so thick it led to that uncomfortable era of “urine-test journalism,” when we reporters would go around grilling politicians whether they’d ever smoked pot.

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