In a new interview with Rolling Stone about his legacy in office, President Barack Obama made a bold statement on how he thinks society should approach marijuana.
Speaking to Rolling Stone writer Jann S. Wenner in an interview published Tuesday, Obama said he doesn't support substance abuse, but that marijuana ought to be treated the same way we treat alcohol and cigarettes, both of which are legal:
"Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. 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. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. 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 added that it's "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."
ATTN: staff writer Kyle Jaeger pointed out Wednesday that Obama compared marijuana legalization to marriage equality in the same Rolling Stone interview, saying:
"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. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal."
However, there are some like Tom Angell, the founder of marijuana reform group Marijuana Majority, who believes Obama's words on marijuana are too little, too late. "[I]t 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," Angell told ATTN:.
In his 1995 book "Dreams From My Father," Obama wrote that he had previously smoked marijuana, and he even joked about marijuana at the 2016 White House Correspondents' Dinner, saying of his approval ratings, "The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major." In August, the Obama administration announced plans to lift a significant barrier to marijuana research by enabling more institutions of higher education to grow marijuana.
Read Obama's full interview here.