In an interview with The New Yorker released Sunday, President Barack Obama said he didn't think marijuana was more dangerous than alcohol and that the legalization experiments going on in Colorado and Washington were "important." But he also said marijuana use wasn't something he could encourage and he worried that pot legalization could lead to a slippery slope where the decriminalization or legalization of other, more dangerous, drugs might be considered.
The comments came as interviewer David Remnick prodded Obama on the issue of marijuana policy in the midst of a whopping 15,000-word profile of the president. Remnick described Obama's position on pot an area of shifting public opinion where "he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue."
"As has been well documented," Obama said in response to a Remnick question, "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."
But is it less dangerous, Remnick asked?
It is "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer," Obama conceded. "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."
Perhaps marijuana smoking is a bad habit, but racially biased marijuana law enforcement is bad policy, Obama said.
"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. 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."
And thus, the administration's hands-off policy toward marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington:
"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."
But then, the professorial president argued the other side of the issue.
"Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge."
Legalizing marijuana could open the door to talk about legalizing other drugs, he cautioned.
"I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. 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? 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 OK with that?"
– Article originally from Stop the Drug War, used with permission.