In an interview with Rolling Stone that was published Tuesday, President Barack Obama compared the marijuana legalization movement to the same-sex marriage movement, noting that both issues have followed similar trajectories in terms of reform movements.
"[T]his is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage," Obama said. "There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where [marijuana] is legal."
Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner pressed Obama to expand on that thought, stating that the president's efforts helped push same-sex marriage legalization "right over the edge." Obama pushed back against that point and argued that "in a big, diverse country like this requires us to move the ball forward not in one long Hail Mary to the end zone, but to, you know, systemically make progress." He continued:
"Well, you know, no. I don't think that's how it works. If you will recall, what happened was, first, very systematically, I changed laws around hospital visitation for people who were same-sex partners. I then assigned the Pentagon to do a study on getting rid of 'don't ask, don't tell,' which then got the buy-in of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and we were then able to [repeal] 'don’t ask, don’t tell.' We then filed a brief on Proposition 8 out in California. And then, after a lot of groundwork was laid, then I took a position."
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality last year. Marijuana remains federally prohibited, however there are other parallels between these movements. Obama explained that both movements were led by states that opted to legalize. There are also similar patterns in the evolution of public support for these issues.
In 1999, 35 percent of Americans supported marriage equality, according to Gallup. That year, support for marijuana legalization stood at 34 percent. Today, 60 percent of Americans support legalization and same-sex marriage.
In a statement emailed to ATTN:, Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell said the president's comments on the issue "are correct," but added that "it would have been very helpful if he had taken more concrete positive action on this issue before it was almost time to vacate the Oval Office."
"However, there is still time to help people who are suffering under drug policies that President Obama correctly criticizes," Angell said. "He could, for example, effectuate blanket commutations of sentences for people who are serving time behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes for no good reason whatsoever. Now, more than ever, it’s time for President Obama to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk."