Bill Steigerwald

Too bad young Barack Obama wasn't as deeply into the drug trade as the Clintons' smear artists would like America's Democrat voters to believe.

Too bad he hadn't been a serious teenage drug dealer on the mean middle-class streets of Honolulu, where he was raised by his grandparents and attended an elite high school.

Better yet, too bad Obama hadn't been arrested for selling pot or possessing cocaine as a teenager but had still grown up to be what he is today -- a political rock star just one Clinton away from becoming America's second black president.

If Obama had suffered serious legal pain for his youthful dalliance in illegal drugs -- as hundreds of thousands of Americans do every year -- he might not be the hardened drug warrior he is today.

Obama has gotten props for being the first electable presidential candidate to fess up to his youthful interest in illegal drugs without pretending he didn't enjoy the experience.

"When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently -- that was the point," Obama can be seen admitting on YouTube. More famously, in his 1995 bestseller "Dreams from My Father," he said he used marijuana and cocaine as a teen but never heroin.

Obama's candor is refreshing in the morally challenged land of big-time politics, where invertebrates, hypocrites and liars rule. But when it comes to the mindless prosecution of the war on (some) drugs, he's as spineless as the next politician.

Though he's way too smart, sophisticated and street-wise to be unaware of the arguments against drug prohibition, he's made nary a public peep about what the drug war has done to our liberties and wallets.

Nor has he railed about the decades of socioeconomic damage it's done to black communities. Nor about the young black males who've died in disproportionately high numbers in shootouts over drug turf.

No one expects Obama to wreck his White House chances by challenging the puritanical premises behind the drug war. But except for methamphetamine, which is ravaging many (white) communities in Illinois, Sen. Obama virtually ignores the issue of illegal drugs.

A search for the word "marijuana" on his official Web site, (which archives his Senate speeches), brings not one hit. Ditto for "cocaine." "Heroin" comes up three times -- in connection with Afghanistan and Burma.

Obama is not even in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. And he was the last potential president to promise he'd call off federal drug raids on medical marijuana clinics.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..