By Deej Sullivan
President Barack Obama made a potentially significant move yesterday by declaring in an interview that cannabis is ‘less dangerous than alcohol’.
This may seem like a fairly innocuous statement to make – it is, after all, pretty much common sense at this point. But nonetheless it was a bold move. Cannabis is still a schedule 1 controlled substance in the USA, meaning (according to the Federal Government) that it has a high potential for abuse and no medical use. For context, this is the same scheduling enjoyed by such delightful substances as Heroin and GHB, but not cocaine, which is schedule 2.
As well as this Obama, who was speaking in an interview with the New Yorker editor David Remnick, said that “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.”
Make no mistake – this is big news. For the President to publicly declare that criminalising cannabis users is something we should not be doing sends a strong message to the rest of the world. Is this the beginning of the end for prohibition? It certainly feels like it could be.
It’s worth remembering of course that Obama has made statements like this before. He has openly admitted smoking cannabis in his youth and, when he became President, he vowed not to use Federal resources to raid state-legal medical dispensaries. As it turned out this ended up being untrue. In actual fact he spent more money even than his predecessor George W Bush, despite his promises.
Despite this, Obama’s newest statement is exciting news for drug law reform activists everywhere; coming as it does less than a month after Colorado formally legalised sales of cannabis for recreational use. So far there have been no raids on these new ‘pot shops’, and media coverage has been largely positive (other than the predictable howls of rage from Fox News and the like).
In the wake of this it seems to me that we have a great opportunity here in the UK to put pressure on our own Government to change their outdated and immoral drug laws.
In many ways David Cameron’s evolving opinion on cannabis has followed a similar trajectory to that of his American counterpart. Like Obama, Cameron has admitted to using cannabis in the past and, also like Obama, he made many comments early on in his political career that suggested he was in favour of reform. He even went as far as saying that the UN should consider legalising drugs back when he was attempting to become Tory leader.
When he came to power, however, his views suddenly and drastically changed. He has clashed with Professor David Nutt on the issue and reportedly refused to even read the HASC report which recommended having a Royal Commission to look at decriminalisation and legalisation. Unlike Obama his position has not yet softened and, right now, he still seems unlikely to support changes to the law. However, now that the ‘leader of the free world’ has spoken so frankly and openly on the subject, perhaps now could be an opportune time to up the pressure on our own dear leader.
To this end, NORML are launching a campaign to get this issue raised in Parliament. Love it or loathe it, writing to politicians has always been a fundamental part of any law reform movement. It is our belief that if enough people write to their local MP’s on this issue, asking them whether they agree with Barack Obama’s view, then the issue of law reform is bound to become more prominent in their minds. If we can then keep the pressure up and challenge MP’s to ask David Cameron his opinions during PMQ’s, then he will have to give an answer one way or the other. When the heat is turned up by continuing reform in other countries, it will become very difficult, and embarrassing, for him to ignore us and deny his previous statements on the matter.
We will be producing a template for people to use, however I would recommend writing something yourself if you are able – the more people who write something unique on this issue, the more likely it is that we will get their attention.
This is a very important moment for our cause. We need all of your help to push this into the public eye and force our politicians out of their comfort zone. Please; if you can help in any way – be it by writing letters, sharing the campaign on social media or talking to people about the issue and convincing them to join us, then do it. This is a chance for you to help make a serious difference: don’t get left behind.