Barack Obama (b. August 4, 1961)
America's Great Black Hope was raised in Hawaii where, by his own admission, he toked up regularly.
"We were always playing on the white man's court . . . by the white man's rules," he wrote in Dreams of My Father. "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though." He continued:
"I had discovered that it didn't make any difference whether you smoked reefer in the white classmate's sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you'd met down at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids who had dropped out of school and now spent most of their time looking for an excuse to brawl. You might just be bored, or alone. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection. And if the high didn't solve whatever it was that was getting you down, it could at least help you laugh at the world's ongoing folly and see through all the hypocrisy and bullshit and cheap moralism."
In a 2007 interview, Obama stated, "When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point." After the New York Times ran a story that interviewed friends who charged Obama barely toked, PBS's Mark Shields went so far as to speculate that the candidate had insulated himself from criticism about pot use by his honest admission.
Speaking to Northwestern University students in 2004, Obama said, "The War on Drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws." After the candidate reluctantly raised his hand to oppose decrim during an MSNBC debate, the 2004 comment resurfaced. A spokesperson for his campaign said that Obama had "always" supported decriminalizing marijuana and that he'd misunderstood the question, adding Obama's administration would "review drug sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce counterproductive sentencing [of] nonviolent offenders." But after the Washington Times posted the 2004 video on their website, his campaign office flip-flopped, saying Obama "does not support eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use."
Sadly lost in the flap over the anti-American tirade from Obama’s minister is a major reason why Jeremiah Wright damned our country. "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America'," Wright said in a 2003 sermon. "No, no, no, not God bless America, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human."
When Wright says the government gives people drugs, he was likely referring to information uncovered in Congressional hearings by John Kerry and by the work of journalist Gary Webb, that CIA dumped crack cocaine into Los Angeles ghettos to fund Nicaraguan contras during the 1980s. More compelling evidence is presented in the not-to-be-missed Showtime program American Drug War: The Last White Hope.
Regardless, Wright has cause to be outraged over racism in the drug war. Although public health data reveals that whites use drugs at the same rate as blacks, African Americans make up almost half of those arrested and convicted for drug offenses. Between 1992 and 1996, drug sentences skyrocketed and the African American prison population doubled. Today, 1 in 3 black men are in prison, on parole or on probation and 1 in 14 black children has a parent in prison. (See Drug Policy Alliance: “The War on Drugs or The New Jim Crow?”)
Now re-elected to a second term, the Obama adminstration has addressed the injustice of mandatory minimum sentencing and is taking a hands-off approach to legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington state. In January 2014, Obama told the New Yorker magazine he considers marijuana less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." While adding, "It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.” But he expressed concern about the disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities.
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”