U.S. President Barack Obama is used to the marijuana questions. But when a legalization policy question was posed to him while talking with young leaders at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica on Thursday, it provided a brief moment of levity given the circumstances.
The man asking the question: Miguel “Steppa” Williams, who politely wished Obama well and asked his question that eventually addressed the U.S.’s attitude on “the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana” in Jamaica.
“How did I anticipate this question?” Obama said immediately as giddy laughs spread throughout the audience. “How did I guess this question?”
Obama’s answer covered familiar territory, but it was fascinating for many to see the United States’ first African American president discussing legal cannabis policy in one of the cradles of marijuana civilization.
“There are two states in the United States that have embarked on an experiment to decriminalize or legalize marijuana,” Obama said, as seen in the above video. “Right now that is not federal policy and I do not foresee, anytime soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis, but I do think that if there are states that show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential of increased addiction then it’s conceivable that that will spur on a national debate, but that is going to be some time off.”
According to the Jamaican Observer, Obama went on to discuss U.S. international policy regarding hemp and marijuana.
“We had some discussion with the Caricom countries about this. I know on paper a lot of folks think, you know, what if we just legalize marijuana then it’ll reduce the money flowing into the transnational drug trade, there are more revenues and jobs created.
“I have to tell you that it’s not a silver bullet because, first of all, if you are legalizing marijuana, how do you deal with other drugs and how do you draw the line.” He cautioned that in the global economy, generally, if you have small- or medium-sized marijuana businesses scattered across the Caribbean and marijuana is suddenly legal, big multinational companies will come in and try to market and control and profit from the trade. He stressed that this is a real scenario.
“I think we have to have a conversation about this but our current policy continues to be, in the United States, we need to decrease demand and we need to focus on a public health approach to decreasing demand and to stop the flow of guns and cash into the Caribbean and Central America and Latin America,” Obama said. “I think the Caribbean and Latin America to Central America have to cooperate with us to try to shrink the power of the transnational drug organisations that are vicious and hugely disruptive,” he added.