Does Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson have some special insight on President Barack Obama's views on marijuana reform? He told The Washington Times he believes Obama will drop his staunch opposition to legalization before he leaves office next January, even though the President has given no indication there's such a radical change of position in the works.
A statement on the White House web site makes Obama's current position crystal clear: "The Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people."
Pressed by reporters in late January, Obama press secretary John Earnest said fellow party members had urged the President to look at reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II to allow for proper research to be done on the medical benefits of the drug. Obama refused to take the lead himself.
"There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action," said Earnest. "The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.' "
Obama will make the changes 'going out the door'
Taken together, these statements clearly indicate Obama doesn't intend to lead efforts to soften drug laws during his final year. And yet Johnson still thinks it will happen.
"It's going to be just like alcohol," said Gary Johnson earlier this week. "I'm going to predict that Obama, when he leaves office, is going to deschedule marijuana as a Class I narcotic. I wish he would have done that to this point, but I think he's going to do that going out the door. That's a positive."
Johnson's own view is like that of most legalization advocates. He believes marijuana should be removed from the list of banned substances altogether, so that states can decide if they want to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, free from the interference of a prohibitionist federal government.
This more modest reform that Johnson thinks Obama will enact would still be an enormous step forward for medical marijuana advocates. Right now, cannabis is listed alongside heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, which means it is highly addictive and has no medical value, according to the federal government. Changing it to Schedule II would allow it to be recognized and studied as medicine.
Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, said the White House has the power to make these changes to federal law, but he doesn't share Johnson's sense of certainty that this will happen.
"It's tough to predict what the president will do on this issue before he leaves office," said Tom Angell, "but if he's willing to uphold his pledge to set policy based on science, and he listens to the majority of Americans who support marijuana reform, he will exercise his administrative authority for rescheduling."
Johnson's proclamation does appear to be wishful thinking, but that's not a reason for despair amongst legalization advocates. The necessary reforms may well be in the works the day Obama leaves office. Both Democratic candidates - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton - have far more progressive stances on marijuana reform than the outgoing president.