In an interview with the New Yorker released on Sunday, President Obama made perhaps the strongest endorsement by any sitting president on relaxed marijuana laws. Pushed by interviewer David Remnick, Obama acknowledged that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol in its effect on consumers. He also noted the obvious racial and economic disparities in enforcement of marijuana laws. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “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.”
In fact, the president backhandedly came close to endorsing outright legalization of the drug for recreational purposes, by offering a modified endorsement of new laws in Colorado and Washington that do exactly that:
Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
Obama circled back around and noted the new laws in both states could be “a challenge” because of the potential for legalization of other, harder types of drugs. He also noted he has advised his daughters not to smoke marijuana. So it wasn’t an outright endorsement.
But the moment was still significant in several ways. In context of the United States’ long-running and highly problematic war on drugs, it is quite notable to have a president come out and say that marijuana isn’t nearly as harmful as it is often made out to be and to back serious changes in the legal regime governing the drug.
By George Zornick
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