During an exit interview with Rolling Stone magazine President Obama finally came out in full support of treating marijuana the same way that we treat cigarettes and alcohol – as a public health issue, not a criminal one. This, of course, is something that many of us have been saying for years now – but having a sitting president back it up is definitely a first. However, it’s unfortunate that he waited until the very end of his presidency before finally taking this stance – perhaps we could have seen far more progress on reform if he had done so earlier.
The Obama Administration’s hands-off approach has allowed 4 states to create fully functioning recreational cannabis industries – which in turn lead to 4 more states legalizing the plant during the recent election. Now he is suggesting that reform on a federal level will become necessary in the very near future, saying “where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another” is “untenable”. This is not the first time he’s made this point, but this time it was accompanied by his reasoning.
“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.” – Obama told Rolling Stone
He went on to explain that the president alone is not really able to make a change such as rescheduling or removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. Instead, it must be done either through legislation (which is possible as enough fresh faces with new intentions come into congress and as older members see the benefits legalization has brought to states that have allowed it) or by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Though, at the mention of the DEA, he also commented on how unlikely it was for them to change anything, saying, “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.”
In response to this interview Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority Project came out to say that while Obama was correct on all his points, it would have been nice to see him do more about these issues during his presidency. He suggests that he could have put more pressure on the DEA or his attorney general to have the plant rescheduled. Angell continues to suggest that perhaps it is not too late and that Obama could commute sentences for people serving prison time for nonviolent drug crimes, ending with “Now, more than ever, it’s time for President Obama to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.”
It may be a bit disappointing that Obama did not do more to put pressure on the situation in attempts at seeking federal reform – however, he did step aside and allow Washington and Colorado to lead the way in this revolution of change. It was more of an experiment at first, but now that eight states have made the decision to legalize the plant it is clear that a major change needs to happen in the relatively near future.