President Barack Obama believes marijuana is not more dangerous than alcohol and feels that “it’s important” for the legalization of recreational marijuana in states like Washington and Colorado to go forward.
“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,” Obama told the New Yorker‘s David Remnick in a lengthy feature story published on Sunday. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
When asked if marijuana was less dangerous than alcohol, Obama said, “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 then said, “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.” He also believes blacks and Hispanics are more likely to get put in jail for smoking marijuana.
“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.”
He also said “it’s important” for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington 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.”
“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,” Obama continued. “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.”
Obama then brought up the issue about whether legalizing marijuana will lead others to call for drugs that have been proven to do more harm–like cocaine–to be legalized as well.
“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,” he said. “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 O.K. with that?”