Washington, DC — President Barack Obama told Rolling Stone Magazine that he believes cannabis ought to be legally regulated and that lawmakers must ultimately address the disparity between state and federal law.
Said Obama: “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 previously admitted in 2014 that he did “not think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol.”
The outgoing President also reiterated his belief that the existing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws is “untenable” and that the time was now “ripe” for federal lawmakers to address the issue. Obama made similar comments to Bill Maher in November.
At a recent White House press briefing, spokesperson Josh Earnest said that the President’s comments were not indicative of any forthcoming policy change. Earnest said: “I think what the President is suggesting is that it’s increasingly difficult for federal law enforcement officials to be enforcing the law differently in a variety of states. … So that’s something that I think the next administration is going to have to grapple with. … I don’t think the President at this point was trying to signal any specific policy change.”
In 2013, the Obama administration issued a memorandum directing US prosecutors not to interfere with statewide marijuana legalization efforts, provided those efforts did not undermine specific federal priorities – such as the diversion of cannabis to non-legal states. However, this directive is not binding to the next administration.
Although President-elect Donald Trump has voiced support for the sanctity of state-authorized marijuana programs, his nominee for US Attorney General, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, strongly opposes any liberalization in cannabis policy, stating in April, “[M]arijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”
For more information, please contact Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.