President Obama further described his recent stance on marijuana legalization in an interview with CNN on Friday. The president did not outline exact plans, but aimed his criticism at harsh, criminal sentencing and alluded to softer legal ramifications for individual users as a potential step forward.
"My concern is when you have very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly, in some cases with racial disparity, I think that is a problem. Over the long term, I think if we can deal with some of the criminal-penalty issues then we can really tackle what is a problem not just for marijuana, but also alcohol, also cigarettes, also harder drugs, and that is try to make sure that our kids don’t get into these habits in the first place."
The President did not specify if he was referring to federal or state penalties for marijuana, but did say “the incarceration model [the federal government has] taken particularly around marijuana does not seem to produce the kind of results we’ve set.”
That stance echoes the Obama administration’s move to reform the federal government’s legal stance on nonviolent drug offenses last year. Those plans include changes to mandatory minimum sentences. Forty-seven percent of current federal inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses.
Obama could set his sights on changing marijuana’s federal scheduling, but claimed that was the job of Congress and not his. Marijuana is currently a schedule I narcotic, meaning it has no currently accepted medical use in the U.S. and a high potential for abuse. Heroin, LSD, and MDMA are all schedule I controlled substances.
Obama’s recent about-face on marijuana is seen as a major ideological victory for the pro-marijuana camp. Obama candidly said he doesn’t think marijuana is “more dangerous than alcohol” in an interview with The New Yorker magazine on Monday. While he may be softening his line on pot, Obama offered CNN a cautionary disclaimer to the pro-legalization camp:
“Those who think legalization is a panacea, I think they have to ask themselves some tough questions, too, if we start having a situation where big corporations with a lot of resources and distribution and marketing arms are suddenly going out there peddling marijuana, then the levels of abuse are going to be higher.”