Obama and Pot

Photo by CR Chambers

by Rick Langenberg:


President: Toking weed is less dangerous than drinking alcohol…

President Barack Obama is the first marijuana-friendly president in modern times, a further indication that times are changing regarding the prohibition against pot.

Moreover, the Obama administration’s more liberal stance regarding legal weed is one of the reasons why Colorado has sprouted with more than 100 recreational marijuana businesses. And the list is growing, with little indication that the feds will intervene. In fact, comments made by Obama’s cabinet officials, declaring a hands-off approach towards Colorado ’s medical marijuana rules played a role in the explosion of medicinal cannabis establishments starting in 2009. Although Obama has been somewhat ambiguous regarding his attitude toward marijuana, stopping short of a national push for legalization, his non-confrontational stance represents a complete reversal from the anti-drug zealotry of the administration officials of former President George W. Bush, who vowed, “If we see a pot plant in your house, we will bust you, whether you have a medical license or not.”

Colorado first legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but for nearly 10 years patients and their caregivers were forced to adopt low-key practices regarding the medicinal use of the drug. That changed shortly after the Obama administration assumed power. Then came Amendment 64, the law approved by a majority of Colorado voters in Nov. 2012 that took Colorado into the national marijuana spotlight, with the legalization of recreational pot for adults. And while former President Bill Clinton made it clear that he smoked marijuana but didn’t inhale the drug, our 44th president makes it clear that he took many tokes in his wilder less disciplined days and doesn’t view this as a serious crime that should be punished.

In an article in the New Yorker magazine, authored by Obama biographer and New Yorker editor David Remnick, the president made some surprising claims regarding his views on marijuana, such as claiming that pot is less dangerous than alcohol. The president has further reaffirmed these statements in recent media interviews regarding this subject, with the conclusion that pot is not as bad as alcohol. “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,” said Obama, according to the well-publicized, candid New Yorker article that outlines his ups and downs as president. “It is less dangerous in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

But that said, the president said he supports the laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington partially due to the double standard in drug-related enforcement. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot and poor kids do,” he added. “It’s important for it (the laws legalizing recreational pot) 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. 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.” At the same time, he admits Colorado faces a tough road ahead in the promarijuana arena. “The experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge,” said Obama.

As a cautionary stance, he noted that marijuana legalization won’t create an idealistic heyday and worries about the impact of more serious drugs. “Those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems, I think are overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy…I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, ‘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? If somebody says, ‘We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth,’ Are we okay with that?”

Since he was elected president, Obama has somewhat danced around the pot issue, but has been firm in not interfering with the rights of states like Colorado to adopt their own rules without any federal interference.