President Obama Says Sensible Things About Marijuana Legalization

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ARLINGTON, VA - NOVEMBER 11:  (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. For Veterans Day, President Obama is paying tribute to military veterans past and present who have served and sacrificed their lives for their country.  (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
Photo: Pool/2013 Getty Images

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Yorker's David Remnick that also touched on a pre-Thanksgiving basketball injury, foreign policy, conservative's endless attacks on his record and legacy, his increasingly willingness to socialize, and his feelings about his daughter watching Girls, President Obama said some very sensible things about weed.

"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. After saying that marijuana use is "not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy," he went on to make an important point about Americans' shifting attitude toward legalization, which has profound consequences for kids who are being raised in environments that are very different from Malia and Sasha's:

"Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he said. "And 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, he said, "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." Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana 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."

However, he stopped short of calling for legal weed throughout the country. "Those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case," he said, noting that "the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge" and wondering about potential "line-drawing issues" that could come with future attempts to legalize harder drugs. "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?" he asked. While Obama isn't likely to face that question as president, pot will remain a big issue for rest of his term. And, if this interview is any indication, it seems that he's at least tentatively committed to being reasonable about it. The Choom Gang would be proud.