If Obama can't articulate his position on marijuana, why won't he reconsider it?

It is noteworthy that President Obama -- someone who is used to speaking extemporaneously in public -- could not provide one single legitimate reason why his administration believes in continuing the federal ban on marijuana, including the use of medical marijuana for ill patients. Obama's failure to communicate becomes even more curious when one considers that within just the past few weeks, high-profile members of the his administration have publicly put forward several explanations for why the federal government is in the business of denying marijuana to sick people.

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For instance, the White House's 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, released in July, devoted an entire section to rebuffing the notion that cannabis may hold value as a legitimate therapy, stating:

“Marijuana and other drugs are addictive and unsafe, especially for use by young people. Unfortunately, efforts to ‘medicalize’ marijuana have widened the public acceptance and availability of the drug.

“There is no substitute for the scientific approval process employed by the FDA. For a drug to be made available to the public as medicine, the FDA requires rigorous research followed by tests for safety and efficacy. Only then can a substance be classified as medicine and prescribed by qualified health care professionals to patients.

“In the wake of state and local laws that permit distribution of "medical" marijuana, dozens of localities have been left to grapple with poorly written laws that bypass the FDA process and allow marijuana to be used as a so-called medicine. ... Outside the context of federally approved research, the use and distribution of marijuana is prohibited in the United States.”

Moreover, less than one-month ago, Obama's hand-picked DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart formally denied a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any 'accepted medical use in treatment.' Leonhart's explanation, as stated in the July 8, 2011 edition of the Federal Register was:

“[Cannabis possesses] a high potential for abuse; ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; ... [and] lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision. ... [T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving its efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. ... At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

So if the Obama administration is willing to make such allegations in writing, then why is the president afraid to own up to and repeat these claims in public? Likely because he, like a majority of Americans, are aware that there isn't a shred of scientific support for the administration's 'Flat Earth' position when it comes to pot.

So if the president of the United States can't publicly articulate why we continue to arrest over one-half million Americans each year for possessing marijuana, then why are we as a nation continuing to engage in this destructive and illogical policy?

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (2009, Chelsea Green).