President Barack Obama said he is starting to see liberals and conservatives recognizing that current marijuana laws don’t make sense, and how costly it is to incarcerate individuals for non-violent drug offenses.
In an interview with Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith, President
Obama seemed to initially dismiss the topic of marijuana
legalization, telling Smith he understands interest in the drug
before arguing that the issue “shouldn’t be young people’s
Young people should care about “climate change, the economy,
jobs, war and peace,” Obama said. Maybe at the bottom of
that list, he added, “you should be thinking about
Still, Obama said he would separate out the issue of
criminalization of marijuana from encouraging its use. He said
there is no question the criminal justice system is heavily
centered on cracking down on non-violent offenders, and that the
policies have had a terrible effect on many communities, in
particular communities of color. That has made a lot of people
unemployable because they received felony records and
This practice is “rendering a lot of folks unemployable
because they’ve got felony records, disproportionate prison
sentences. It costs a huge amount of money to states and a lot of
states are figuring that out,” Obama told Vice.
“We may be able to make some progress on the
decriminalization side. At a certain point, if enough states end
up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, which
means it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted
medical use. It’s in the same category as heroin and LSD.
Last week, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would
reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II
drug, which has lower potential danger and recognized medical
“What I’m encouraged by is you’re starting to see not just
liberal Democrats, but also some very conservative Republicans
recognize this doesn’t make sense – including the libertarian
wing of the Republican Party,” said Obama.
— Austin Hunt (@AustinHunt) March
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized
the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Twenty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical
purposes. Four states, as well as D.C., have legalized
However, when it comes to full-blown legalization, Obama said
there are still concerns that have to be thought through.
“I think there is a legitimate concern about the overall
effects this has on society, particularly vulnerable parts of our
society,” Obama said. “Substance abuse generally, legal
and illegal substances, is a problem. Locking somebody up for 20
years is probably not the best strategy, and that is something we
have to rethink as a society as a whole.”