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Clarence Page: Obama should listen to Rand Paul and legalize marijuana

BY CLARENCE PAGE Published: March 30, 2013
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As the nation's capital prepares to open its first legal medicinal marijuana dispensary and Sen. Rand Paul's call for legalization basks in bipartisan praise, it's time for President Barack Obama to clear the air around his own passive-aggressive position on pot.

Until now, the president has been remarkably adept at taking positions that seemed to be ahead of their time — and getting ahead of them.

For example, when he declared his full support for the right of same-sex couples to marry, there were fears among his supporters that he would lose important votes before his re-election campaign, particularly among black churchgoers. Those fears proved to be exaggerated.

But four years after his Justice Department announced that the feds will no longer crack down on medicinal marijuana sellers who follow state laws, the president's pot position continues to be dangerously vague and confusing.

In California, where voters approved medicinal use back in 1996, the law was so vaguely worded that about 1,000 dispensaries mushroomed up in Los Angeles County alone. Yet busts continued, partly over disputes as to whether the law allowed only nonprofit businesses.

At the other extreme, November ballots in Colorado and Washington state legalized marijuana for recreational use, and the District of Columbia's first dispensary, Capital City Care, has its website up and plans to open in April.

And, on another front, Sen. Paul, a famously libertarian Kentucky Republican, has introduced a bill with Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy to restore greater flexibility to judges than currently is allowed by mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

In a recent interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace that even Think Progress praised as “uncharacteristically sensible,” the left-progressive website's equivalent of a four-star review for the Kentucky conservative, Paul got to the heart of the current tragedy: ruined lives.

“Our prisons are full of nonviolent criminals,” Paul said. “I don't want to encourage people to do it. I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. … But I also don't want to put people in jail who make a mistake.”

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