President Barack Obama said in an interview published Sunday that he believes smoking marijuana is no more dangerous than drinking alcohol. And he suggested it’s even less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
Obama’s comments came as part of a lengthy profile by The New Yorker’s David Remnick. As Remnick notes, Obama’s comments make it seem like he wants to “get in front of the issue,” as public opinion rapidly shifts toward favouring legalization.
“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. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama told Remnick.
Remnick followed up and asked him if he thought it was less dangerous.
Obama responded that he did agree with that sentiment, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
“It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” Obama added.
Obama said that one of the most disconcerting things about U.S. drug laws is the racial and socioeconomic disparities among people who are punished. The Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana in the same Schedule 1 category as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he told Remnick. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.
“We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have in the past year legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The District of Columbia and 18 more states allow some legal uses — mostly for medicinal reasons.
Obama said that it was “important for it to go forward” in Colorado and Washington, since the laws decriminalized a commonly used substance that disproportionately affected a “select few” who get punished.
But Obama did push back against those who think legalizing marijuana would “solve all these social problems.”
“If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?,” Obama said. “If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”
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