I was wrong, and Obama did answer the LEAP cop’s question, saying that legalization was a legitimate topic for debate, he personally was against legalization, and that drug policy should be framed within a public health model, but we must invest in interdiction, etc.

Here’s how the drugs blogosphere have responded:

LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) are obviously delighted that their questioner, a very respectable former cop in a suit, was the person posing the legalization question.  Their response:

“The president talks a good game about shifting resources and having a balanced, public health-oriented approach, but it doesn’t square with the budgets he’s submitted to Congress,” said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of cops, judges and prosecutors who support legalizing and regulating drugs. “The Obama administration has maintained the Bush-era two-to-one budget ratio in favor of prisons and prosecution over treatment and prevention. It doesn’t add up. Still, it’s historic that the president of the United States is finally saying that legalizing and regulating drugs is a topic worthy of discussion. But since the president remains opposed to legalization, it’s clear that the people are going to have to lead the way. Police officers and innocent civilians are dying every single day in this drug war; it’s not a back-burner issue.”

StopTheDrugsWar adopt a tempered tone in their evaluation of the significance of Obama’s response and applaud LEAP’s achievements in getting an answer, of any kind, to their question:

By acknowledging the legitimacy of this discussion, Obama helps us to dig an even deeper grave for the dying notion that there is anything frivolous or unserious about arguing for an end to the War on Drugs.
The banal pot-jokes and rank stereotyping that have often tainted mainstream discussion of the legalization movement have no place in this conversation, and the President’s words should serve to discredit those who’ve voiced distracting insults instead of potential solutions. Whatever else the President may put forward, his singular decision to accept and defend our advocacy as “entirely legitimate” is a leap forward, both for the discussion as a whole and for Obama himself.
…let us not fail to find any promise in today’s events simply because we expect much more. This is a heroic accomplishment by our friends at LEAP and really the entire drug policy reform community, which has achieved blinding visibility in recent years and shattered the presumption of public deference that has long sheltered the drug war from mainstream opposition.

NORML are more dismissive of the ‘platitudes’ offered by Obama:

The President’s response is a lot of platitudes about treatment, reducing demand, and reallocating resources, despite the Obama administration’s budget that puts twice the resources toward law enforcement than to treatment. At its core, however, it retains the premise that responsible adult marijuana consumers must be persuaded by our government, through drug tests, drug courts, forced rehab, and incarceration, into not consuming cannabis.

Transform describes the response as a ‘significant shift in tone’ if not in policy:

Whilst some way from a shift in policy it is at least a significant shift in tone, especially given the US Drug Tsar’s insistence that ‘legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary nor is it in mine’.
Well, here he is talking about it, and certainly not laughing it off like the last time he was asked. He specifically says he doesnt support legalisation, but certainly seems to be edging towards some form of decriminalisation of use. Progress then, albeit small steps. And as LEAP make clear – its important for actions to match words.

It’ll be interesting to see how it’s covered in the media tomorrow.