President Obama Fumbles and Punts Medical Marijuana Question on Campaign Trail

August 16, 2011

Chris Roberts, SF Weekly

For all his Kennedyesque "uhs" and "ahs," President Barack Obama is nonetheless generally regarded as an accomplished public speaker, able to expound extemporaneously on a plethora of topics. But on the campaign trail in Minnesota on Monday -- during what former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney dubbed "the Magical Misery Tour" (we applaud the Beatles-appreciating speechwriter who coined that nugget) -- Obama was stuttering, not stentorian, when an audience member dished him a question on medical marijuana.

And it wasn't even particularly stressing. "If you can't legalize marijuana, why can't you just legalize medical marijuana?" asked a woman in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. That was the stumper after which Obama was literally left stammering.

Rawstory had the scoop on Monday. Watch the video, and here's the transcript, courtesy of NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

Audience member: "If you can't legalize marijuana, why can't we just legalize medical marijuana, to help the people that need it?"

Obama: "Well, you know, a lot of states are making decisions about medical marijuana. As a controlled substance, the issue then is, you know, is it being prescribed by a doctor, as opposed to, you know -- well -- - I'll -- I'll -- I'll -- I'll leave it at that."

The audience, far from holding Obama's feet to the fire, laughed it off and let the president launch into his next topic -- the price of prescription drugs (which quickly segued into an Obamacare tangent. The president was more confident on this topic, saying "I have no problem with people saying Obama cares, because I do care!").

Clearly, the president sees no political benefit in addressing the medical marijuana question -- and can you blame him? Even San Francisco politicians are staying away from medical cannabis in this election season.

You sure can, asserts David Goldman of the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access. Recent polls show a majority of Americans supporting legalization of the plant, while medical marijuana support frequently polls at 70 percent, Goldman says -- in other words, a filibuster-proof supermajority.

"What level of support is it going to take before a Democrat can support it?" Goldman asked. "It's not like this is a really tough issue. For him not to support it is so typical of the Democrats' self-destructive behavior. What sort of political risk would he be taking, exactly? I just don't understand it."

Even Republicans ahead of the president on the marijuana issue don't appear to be taking too many lumps: It's Congressman Ron Paul, after all, who is cosponsoring a slew of marijuana-friendly bills in Congress -- including the hemp farming bill he sponsors every year -- and despite getting no support or even mention from the mainstream media, he won a second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll behind Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann.

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