President Obama may have just made one of his most significant policy pivots on marijuana of his presidency. In a lengthy interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker, Obama said of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s 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.”
As for why it’s a good idea to address this problem with less enforcement instead of more, Obama, while not addressing that question directly, offered some insight into his basic reasoning (emphasis mine):
“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.”
Support for marijuana legalization is as high as 55% nationally in some polls. Colorado and Washington have legalized cannabis, Alaska will have a vote on the issue in a special election this year, and California is likely to do the same.
The major impediment to the march of legalization is federal law. Growers and sellers have to know that there is always the possibility of federal agents shutting them down and in some cases, throwing them in jail. Banks are hesitant to take money connected to marijuana sales, for fear of being prosecuted for money laundering.
The Obama Administration can act without Congress to reclassify marijuana, which is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no medical benefit (objectively and visibly false). By rescheduling cannabis, Obama would open the door for states to have an easier time navigating the murky legal waters of marijuana. Now that Obama has publicly stated that it is “important” for these laws to “go forward,” will he provide the biggest possible assist in making that happen?
Oh, and, by the way, called it.