Obama on marijuana legalization: ‘Important for it to go forward’

BY Zachary Treu  January 20, 2014 at 12:55 PM EST
Photo by David Pelcyger/PBS NewsHour

President Obama said that he didn’t think marijuana is “more dangerous than alcohol” in a magazine interview. Photo by David Pelcyger/PBS NewsHour

President Obama spoke in favor of marijuana legalization in comments recently published in The New Yorker, although his support came with a number of caveats.

“I don’t think (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol,” the president told editor in chief David Remnick, adding that smoking pot is less dangerous than drinking “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” He expressed approval for the recent efforts to legalize the drug in some U.S. states, citing the disproportionate arrests for marijuana-related crimes among minorities and lower-income groups and calling for a uniform regulatory policy.

Regarding the legalization of pot in Colorado and Washington, Obama told Remnick “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.”

However, Obama called the drug “a bad habit and a vice,” comparing it to his own previous cigarette habit, and said that he told his daughters that using it is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

He also dismissed the notion that marijuana is a wonder drug: “(T)hose 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.”

Obama’s remarks, which were recorded last fall, come just a few weeks after the sale of recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado.

Hari Sreenivasan explored the new world of retail marijuana at the beginning of this year, when people lined up in the hundreds to buy legalized pot in Colorado.

Find the rest of Obama’s comments in Remnick’s article, and see previous broadcasts of the NewsHour for our full coverage of the changes in laws concerning marijuana.