Big news: President Barack Obama has given those who favor marijuana legalization the ammo they need for a battle at the federal level. In an interview with David Remnick in the New Yorker, Obama went on the record to defend marijuana use, saying, "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
It wasn't exactly a clear cut endorsement of legalization from the president, and he did offer some hesitations – "those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case," he said. But Obama did come out against the draconian drug laws currently in place in the United States. "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," he said.
The president, of course, has admitted to smoking marijuana in the past. And unlike some former presidents, he's not shy about it. Back in 2007 when Obama was first running for president, he was asked if he ever inhaled marijuana smoke. His response? Duh. "The point was to inhale. That was the point," he said. And though Obama called smoking a "mistake," it shouldn't come as a surprise now that he's expressing support – albeit tempered – for reform of marijuana laws in the U.S.
When the most powerful person in the country sympathizes with marijuana legalization, it's a big deal. Here's why:
Obama is not alone. Public officials at every level of government in the U.S. are turning new leaves on marijuana and siding with legalization. Joining the president over the weekend was Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who said: "I think we need to take a real close look at this. I think that there's some medical reasons for marijuana."
And Obama's right. There is a good deal of evidence to support Obama's argument regarding marijuana versus alcohol; so maybe it's time to consider making marijuana legal, too.
But the bigger issue here is exactly who suffers from outdated marijuana laws. And as the president notes, it's disproportionately the poor and minorities. "Middle class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do … 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," Obama said in the New Yorker interview.
Obama wasn't explicit in his support for nationwide legalization, and he probably won't express clear favor for some time, but he called the new laws in Colorado and Washington "important" and his statements in the interview certainly line up with marijuana legalization supporters. For now, though, this remains a state-by-state fight.