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Oops, Obama was for decriminalizing marijuana before he opposed it

Here's that uncomfortable old video problem again for presidential candidates.

The Washington Times has unearthed a video of a debate in Barack Obama's initial Illinois campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004. The debate tape from Jan. 21, 2004, at Northwestern University shows Obama proclaiming the war on drugs an "utter failure."

"We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," he said to scattered applause. "But I'm not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana. What I do believe is that we need to rethink how we're operating in the drug war. Currently, we're not doing a good job."

OK. Fine.

But then in a Democratic debate last fall, Tim Russert asked all the party's candidates if anyone disagreed with Sen. Chris Dodd's idea to decriminalize marijuana. Obama, standing center stage, was one of several candidates who raised their hand, albeit not very high.

An Obama spokesman told the newspaper the other day that the senator has "always" favored decriminalization as he said in the 2004 debate, meaning he mistakenly raised his hand as an opponent for the national TV audience.

A spokesman for the campaign of Hillary Clinton, Obama's sole remaining Democratic opponent, said she opposes decriminalization.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Only in the US would billions be spent on failure. Incarceration for non-violent drug offenses where no one was harmed is simply a relic of the prohibitive mindset. Didn't work with alcohol, didn't work with sex. Will only keep drug prices high, creating more property crime.
One would think folks might learn from sleeping beauty: you can't burn all the spinning wheels, best teach the girl not to prick her finger.
Current drug laws are a relic of bygone days, when alcohol ruled the recreational drug scene. Unfortunately, alcohol was for turning off the mind and inhibitions, of which there were plenty. Marijuana use is a symptom of a new generation's desire to expand the awareness, to examine inhibitions, and of mankind's age-old tendency to self-medicate. Incarceration for smoking pot is absurd-- better to legislate against alcohol and tobacco. But we know how well that will work. To continue to throw billions at drug interdiction is a waste of good law enforcement personnel. Illegality only increases the profits of the dealers and penalizes the already alienated and disenfranchised. Illegal pot is reminiscent of earlier eras declaring literature to be pornographic. Now, every ten-year old knows all the bad words of the previous generation.
Self-medication is a medical issue, not a penitentiary issue.

Hillary, you're going to need more than marijuana to discourage voters from Obama honey!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to roll a joint !

Wow, now you've really got him! This is a biggie. Let's trash him now. You guys are pathetic. No focus on real issues and positions, just digging deep for purposes of - what? Certainly smells like some kind of agenda other than giving the public meaningful information.

This storty was from the Right-Wigng Washington Times. I have seen the videos and he said we should "RE-EXAMINE" our approach to marijuana laws.

Re-Examine does not mean change or decriminalize. He said we should take a hard serious look at it. These are two different things and I am dissapointed that anyone would let the WT get away with taking things out of context (like I am surprised).


We all know who is really against the drug war. We know who has always been against the racist, futile, statist, expensive, ineffective war on (non-government-sanctioned) drugs: Dr. Ron Paul.

"We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," he said to scattered applause. "But I'm not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana. What I do believe is that we need to rethink how we're operating in the drug war. Currently, we're not doing a good job."

He want to decriminalize marijuana laws but doesn't want to legalize it? Hmmm. Methinks this sounds like political double speak.

That's a tricky double negative. Opposing decriminalization translates to favoring criminalization of MJ. So Clinton thinks her husband should maybe go to jail for almost inhaling? This is confusing.

Maybe Obama didn't hear the question right?

No wonder why the late Obama surge in California.

While an aide to Sen. Barack Obama, who spoke at a town-hall meeting yesterday in Los Angeles, tried to explain away the altered policy changes, analysts excused him, noting the passage of time and less-liberal competition.Barack Obama, senatorial candidate 04, is very different from presidential candidate of 08.Videotapes of debates and speeches obtained by Washington Times shows Obama took positions during his Senate campaign on nearly a half-dozen issues ranging from the Cuba embargo to health care for illegal aliens that conflict with statements during his run for the White House. For example, in MSNBC's Oct. 30 presidential debate, Mr. Obama hesitantly raised his hand and joined with most of his Democratic rivals to declare he opposed decriminalizing marijuana But as a U.S. Senate candidate, Mr. Obama told ILL college students January he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use or possession. When confronted with the statements on the video, Obama's campaign offered two explanations said the candidate had "always" supported decriminalizing marijuana, suggesting that his 2004 statement was correct. Then after The Times posted copies of the video on its Web site,, yesterday, his campaign reversed course and declared he does not support eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use. What is
Senator Obama going to say to republicans when asked why he favors granting drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants as Obama has admitted twice in debates? About Obama's present position that undocumented workers will not be covered in his healthcare proposal, yet when he was running for the Senate he said that children of undocumented workers should get the same healthcare benefits that citizens get? when they begin to ask him about negotiating in unstructured summits with the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba without preconditions? What will Senator Obama say when Senator McCain asks him why he said in 2004 that he did not know how he would have voted on the Iraq war authorization and that his view of the Iraq war was not different from President Bush's? What will Senator Obama say when Senator McCain compares Obama's votes to fully fund the Iraq War in the Senate to Obama's rhetorical opposition to that war? What is Senator Obama going to say when Senator McCain questions Obama's claim to be "the most qualified person in America to conduct the foreign policy of the United States"? What is Senator Obama going to say when Senator McCain says that Obama is not one of the most qualified members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lead this country in today's dangerous world but instead one of the most absent? Senator Obama has not conducted a single policy hearing as chairman of the subcommittee on European Affairs of the Foreign Relations Committee?

The problem here is consistency in beliefs and not saying what is politically prudent or easy. Obama consistently attacks Hillary for this but the media seems to give him a pass over and over again.

Another strike against Hillary. How can pollticians claim to be leaders if they can't lead the country away from the War on Marijuana? What about the freedom of the sovereign citizens of the US, who under the tenth amendment are claiming the right to smoke marijuana by doing so? What about freedom? Why is freedom never an issue with these alleged leaders?

Obama is 50 percent minority, so he is 50 percent morally entitled to the presidency. This means that Obama can admit to having used pot and cocaine as a kid and the media will simply ignore it. Meanwhile, if Obama had been 100 percent white and also a Republican, the media would have excoriated him for said drug use.

Now I am sure that I am going to vote for Obama.

I second that yawn...

Obama was also for universal health care before he was against it, he was also for tough regulations on the nuclear power industry before he was against it. Obama supporters shown to be simple minded, was their education waisted?

Obviously the drug war is (1) a great success at funneling our (yours and my) money into police departments all over the country and (2) a great failure at strongly reducing the usage of drugs in this country. So, Obama is right to exhort us to examine the drug laws. Both Hillary and Obama are against (now) decriminalizing marijuana. OF COURSE! THEY ARE POLITICIANS. THEY WILL BE AGAINST ANY MEASURE THEY BELIEVE WILL HURT THEIR CHANCES OF ELECTION. Not a position a truth teller will take. But a position EVERY POLITICIAN will and does take. So, ho hum, anything else to discuss?

Ambiguous hand raising aside (really, we're making a big deal out of a raised hand?), I'm surprised no one has pointed out the obvious that Stacey et al are tripping on: decriminalization and legalization is not the same thing. Decriminalization moves marijuana related offenses to a civil court, i.e. no imprisonment. Legalization means just what it says, it would be legal.

Is that all? Big whoop.

Decriminalization and legalization are two different things. Get this straight, Andrew.

Oops, Paul was for liberalizing drug laws and guess what, he still is! Here's something from a speech Ron Paul delivered to Congress September 19, 1984.

"We have strict drug laws written by those who generously use the drug alcohol. Our laws drive up the price of drugs a thousandfold, to the delight of the dealers, the pushers, and terrorist nations around the world who all reap huge illegal profits. Crimes are committed to finance the outrageous prices, and drug usage never goes down. Enforcement costs soar, and its success remains "mysteriously" elusive. The whole system creates an underground crime world worth billions of dollars; and addicts must then entice others to join, getting new customers to finance their habits – forever compounding a social problem epidemic in proportion. Any new suggestions for changing our drug laws that is, liberalizing them – is seen as political suicide by the hypocritical politicians and a society legally hooked on alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, aspirin and Valium."

No backpeddling, no need for obfuscation. How refreshing.

Yet another reason to back Barak, assuming he meant what he said the first time.

Obama just misunderstood the question. He thought by decriminalize they meant legalize. Obama doesn't want to legalize he just wants to decriminalize, which means it's still illegal to sell and it's either legal for personal possession or the penalty is just a small fine.

Obama's campaign is based on being right on day one. Clinton's is being ready on day one. Obama says he always takes the high road. In truth,since the press and Oprah are fulltime cheerleaders,Hillary is not allowed to right his wrongs,without being accused of attacking him.

A fair election is possible when the press is moral and the Fairness Doctrine is in effect. The world has it's opinions of character backwards on these two,and they don't know it.

Barak needs to stop being just another Panderer. All these politicians are the same with there every changing positions, the only consistency they seem to have left is doublespeak.

Let the marijuana smokers out of jail already, then we will have enough room in the current system that we will not need to build more jails. We are getting to the point where we may achieve what no other country has, 25% of our population behind bars!

Spread The Seeds Of Truth, Free The Weeds Of Wisdom...

If weed ever becomes legal, omg... that would be so amazing.

as a supposed free american person i should have
the right to medicate myself, and not have to go to a doctor if i do not choose to. do i have to go to the doctor to get aspirin?i have read several articles about how marijuana kills pain better than aspirin and with less harmful side effects.that it has been used for hundreds and hundreds of years.for many ailments,i personally think it is the drug companies that is keeping marijuana from being legal for everyone that needs it because they would lose a lot of money, from a plant that grows natural from God himself.and besides that i am tired of having to give up good things that work for me because three people don't believe in it.any body else in the usa agree?lets call an ace an ace,and a spade a spade.come on obama, just say yes we can.

i have another comment, in the last week, i have purchased three cases of coor's beer in the attempt to feel better than normal,i don't like to feel normal all the time because it is too stressful, simply because all i see on the tv. is bad news and terrible programming.any way my point is that all that happened is that i got sick and hung over and slightly poisened from where as if i could have smoked only 1/2 a marijuana cig. i would have felt great.i can't speak for everyone,


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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