What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Obama's Pot Dilemma: Is It Time to Evolve?

December 8, 2012, 12:00 AM
6a00d83451c45669e2017ee604e2ea970d-550wi

What's the Big Idea?

When the clock struck midnight this past Wednesday, dozens of pot smokers lit up in plain sight at Seattle's Space Needle. At that exact moment, the state of Washington's liberal marijuana law went into effect. No federal officials were in sight. No arrests were made, even though smoking marijuana in public is still subject to a fine in Washington. Law enforcement officials seem to want to stay as far away as possible from these types of celebrations, so as not to open up a legal can of worms.

Yet no one seems to be in more of a pickle on this issue than Barack Obama and Eric Holder. Federal law prohibits the possession of marijuana; state laws in Colorado and Washington, on the other hand, now allow it. So which laws should be enforced?

According to Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, this is not completely unfamiliar territory. After all, medical marijuana began to be legalized in various states back in the 1990s, and now 18 states plus Washington, D.C. have set up their own systems for regulation. Colorado, for instance, developed over the years what Nadelmann considers "a very good model for regulating above ground marijuana."

In fact, Nadelmann sites the success of medical marijuana programs as one of the reasons why public opinion has shifted so dramatically in favor of outright legalization. So why mess with the states and the will of the people? Nadelmann, a leading expert on drug policy, sees evidence that Holder and Obama might be willing to move in a somewhat new direction. 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

To get a better sense of what the White House will do, we need to deconstruct a recent New York Times article that has been astutely described as a "trial balloon." As Pete Guither observes, "there’s no better tool for official leaks than the New York Times, which has a policy against using unnamed government sources — a policy that it ignores constantly."

The article in question describes the thinking of "Senior White House and Justice Department officials" who spoke on the condition of anonymity. These officials floated various courses of action -- some of which are extremely aggressive -- to test the public reaction, as Guither suggests. 

So what have the reactions been? Here's the liberal Huffington Post:

Here's Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan:

Will Obama get the message?

To answer this, let's ask a broader question. As the president looks at his second term and plots his legacy, will he "evolve" on drug policy the way he did on gay marriage? Nadelmann points out that this is an issue where the public is leading, not the politicians. A recent PPP poll shows that a record 57 percent of Americans now favor marijuana legalization and most expect federal prohibition to end within the next decade. 

Of course, we don't have to wait that long if Obama decides to lead on this issue now. And there are some compelling reasons for the first black president to do just that. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "at yearend 2010, black non-Hispanic males had an imprisonment rate (3,074 per 100,000 U.S. black male residents) that was nearly 7 times higher than white non-Hispanic males (459 per 100,000)."

This imbalance is largely due to the fact that drug laws are "disproportionately enforced against the poor and younger and darker-skinned members of society," Nadelmann tells Big Think, and that has been the case from the origin of the War on Drugs to the way it is carried out today.

There is an enormous cost to taxpayers and individuals. As Nadelmann points out, incarceration destroys lives. A single arrest "can severely limit an individual’s ability to obtain housing, schooling, employment, and credit," he says. 

Does Obama want to be the president who puts an end to all that? 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, December 08 2012

Today's Big Idea: The Body Politic

Public opinion in the U.S. has now decisively turned in favor of legalizing marijuana, with 57 percent in favor. Colorado and Washington are the first two states to legalize the drug, and both sta... Read More…

 

Obama's Pot Dilemma: Is It ...

Newsletter: Share: