Marijuana should be treated as a public-health issue in the same vein as cigarettes or alcohol, President Barack Obama said in an interview with Rolling Stone.
In this “exit interview” with the music and popular culture magazine, the outgoing president touched on a variety of topics — including marijuana — prior to the transfer of power to a president-elect Donald Trump and Republican-controlled House and Senate.
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The 2016 election also brought a wave of new marijuana laws in eight states, notably California, which voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Considering the adoption of those laws and continued shifts in public opinion favorable to cannabis, Obama was asked why the country continues to wage the War on Drugs and classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance:
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.
Asked by Rolling Stone as to whether he would be on that “cutting edge,” Obama toed the line, referencing his recent comments to talk show host Bill Maher and adding that it would be “untenable” for the Justice Department to continue to enforce disparate state laws:
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.