healthHealth and Medicine

President Obama Thinks Marijuana Use Should Be Treated As "Public-Health Issue"


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Obama speaking in North Carolina earlier this year. Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock

Outgoing President Obama has given a wide-ranging interview to Rolling Stone magazine, speaking on his legacy following Trump’s shock triumph. When the topic of marijuana was brought up, Obama stated that the US government should treat the drug as “we do with cigarettes or alcohol” – as a public-health problem.

He recently said much the same in an interview with late night TV host Bill Maher, and it’s something he’s been saying for several years now. Obama has long-recognized the science behind the issue – that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, which is in fact the most dangerous drug of all – and although he said he doesn’t see nationwide legalization as “a panacea,” he isn’t against it as part of a larger strategy.


Obama also reiterated his belief that substance abuse of any kind is an issue. However, it’s clear that unlike Trump, who sees drugs as a criminal issue, he would attack the problem using data and the expertise of healthcare specialists.

Although stopping short of condemning the violent War on Drugs – which many see to be a catastrophic and prolonged failure – he did bring up the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on its potential short-sightedness. The DEA, along with legislation, has the power to change the archaic classifications on marijuana, but Obama didn’t sound convinced that they would anytime soon.

“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 said.


The controversial plant in question. Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock


At present, marijuana is legal as either a medicinal treatment, a recreational drug, or both, in several US states, despite the fact that federal law sees it as illegal. This contradiction is causing the DEA a lot of difficulty, and no one is really sure how to deal with this legal quandary – including Obama.

“It is 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,” he told Rolling Stone.

Comparing the evolution in the nation’s policy on marijuana to that of same-sex marriage, Obama was quick to point out that it didn’t happen overnight. It took small, incremental changes – repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and changing visitation laws for same-sex couples – before the Supreme Court reached a tipping point.

So progress will be made, although its pace may slow now that conservatives control the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House, and soon the Supreme Court.


“I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go,” Obama noted. 

[H/T: Rolling Stone via Washington Post]


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