Showing that he is not immune to the rapidly shifting opinions on marijuana, President Obama told the New Yorker he thinks marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and said what Colorado and Washington have done is important. This comes only days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he has evolved on the issue of marijuana reform. From the New Yorker:
Less dangerous, [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.” What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “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.” But, he 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.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “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.”
This is an extremely positive statement from the head of the executive branch. It makes it more likely his Department of Justice will go through with their plan to take a more hands-off approach towards state marijuana laws.
It is important to point out, though, that in the past his administration’s actions regarding marijuana have not always lived up to his promising rhetoric.
If Obama wants to improve this broken situation there is plenty he could do. He has the power to reschedule marijuana, he could allow banks to take accounts from marijuana businesses, and he of course has the power of the pardon.
These new words are great, but it is actions that matter.