President Obama has come to the defense of pot smokers, saying that marijuana is no more dangerous than cigarettes or alcohol, and that people arrested for smoking marijuana should not be jailed, particularly poor kids who lack legal defense.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama said in an interview with David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine.
Obama weighed in on the issue after the state of New York announced it was ready to join 20 other US states in permitting the medical use of marijuana, while in the states of Colorado and Washington marijuana has been fully legalized for recreational use. Despite this, the US federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the US till classifies marijuana as a dangerous “Schedule One” substance, equivalent to heroin or ecstasy.
Obama went even further, saying that “in terms of its impact on the individual customer” cannabis is less harmful than alcohol, with a reservation that “it’s not something I encourage.” At the same time, he said that he had warned his daughters against using marijuana because “it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
Obama expressed his approval of the US Justice Department’s stance in promising to focus on the prosecution of drug dealers, instead of individual drug users.
“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,” Obama said. He added it was “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.”
The US president also acknowledged that in his opinion, youngsters belonging to ethnic minorities are arrested and imprisoned for using marijuana disproportionately.
“Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “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 Obama said he was well aware of the dangers that further legalization of drug use might bring.
“If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, ‘Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka,’ are we open to that?” Obama said. “If somebody says, ‘We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot our teeth,’ are we OK with that?”