“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse,” the President said, reports Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post. “And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it.”
Obama also repeated his assertion that changing the federal marijuana laws is not something he could do on his own. “Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by Presidential edict, but are done either legislatively or through the DEA.”
The President also telegraphed his support for changing things sooner rather than later. “As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration recently went against science when it turned down a petition to loosen federal marijuana laws. Cannabis is currently classified federally as a Schedule I controlled substance, considered as dangerous as heroin and LSD, with a lack of “accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.”
Congress could fix the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws by changing the Controlled Substances Act, but more than 45 years after Nixon kicked off his War On Drugs by making marijuana legally as bad as heroin, our “representatives” in federal government lack the courage to do the right thing.
Obama’s Department of Justice has explicitly allowed states to legalize marijuana if they want, but he hasn’t moved to change the strict federal prohibition of cannabis at the federal level. This makes efforts to create a nationwide legal marijuana problematic.
Advocates are worried because the incoming Trump Administration is full of harsh critics of marijuana legalization, including Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who has said “Good people don’t use marijuana.” Sessions, in a very rare event, was turned down for a federal judgeship in 1986 for being too racist.
Obama, in the Rolling Stone interview, hinted that he’d be able to talk more feely about cannabis once he’s out of office. “I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go” on marijuana,” he said.
“But in light of these referenda passing, including in California, I’ve already said, and as I think I mentioned on Bill Maher’s show, where he asked me about the same issue, that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another,” Obama said. “So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage.
“There’s something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach,” Obama said. “You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal.”
President Obama already had told the New Yorker‘s David Remnick in 2014 that he believed marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he said at that time. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”