With just about a month to go before leaving office, President Obama told Rolling Stone magazine that marijuana should be treated similarly to cigarettes and alcohol.
Marijuana should be treated like alcohol and tobacco rather than as a criminal issue, President Obama recently told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview.
“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse,” Obama told Rolling Stone’s Jann S. Wenner. “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.”
Since the passing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I substance, a category reserved for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
Cannabis advocates have been critical of what they consider to be a lack of action by Obama. Although the President’s administration has not interfered with states legalizing marijuana as they see fit, it’s refused to take a definitive stance against prohibition.
“It would have been very helpful if he had taken more concrete positive action on this issue before it was almost time to vacate the Oval Office,” Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority said in a statement. “That this president didn’t apply pressure on the DEA to reschedule marijuana this year will likely go down as one of the biggest disappointments of the Obama era.”
However, the President told Rolling Stone that changing federal laws and rescheduling marijuana is not an act that he could do on his own.
“Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. 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,” he said.
Despite Obama’s comments, Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson told the Washington Times that he believes the President is planning on rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance by executive order before he leaves office on January 20th.
“It’s going to be just like alcohol,” Johnson said. “I’m going to predict that Obama, when he leaves office, is going to reschedule marijuana as a Class I narcotic. I wish he would have done that to this point, but I think he’s going to do that going out the door. That’s a positive.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s position on the legalization of marijuana has fluctuated. He has said he supports allowing states to legalize and regulate medical marijuana as they and their voters choose, but hasn’t alluded to having any intent to reschedule the substance. Advocates are concerned that Trump’s appointment of notoriously anti-cannabis Jeff Sessions to attorney general will hinder legalization efforts once Obama leaves office next month.
A majority of American adults are in favor of legalizing marijuana, while nearly two-thirds believe that the costs associated with enforcing prohibition are more than they’re worth.
As of now, 28 states have legalized medical marijuana and eight have passed legislation legalizing marijuana for adult use. If the federal government were to reclassify cannabis, it would expand research opportunities, allow for taxation reform and insurance reimbursement, and relax banking restrictions.