In a recent YouTube interview, President Obama predicted that given the recent success of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, more states will soon join them and the Department of Justice will look the other way.
“The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we’re not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue,” Obama said. “My suspicion is that you’re gonna see other states start looking at this.”
Last year was a watershed year for marijuana legalization. In late 2014, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana, and medical marijuana programs continue to roll out successfully across the country as they pass through state legislatures. There are now 23 medical marijuana programs in the U.S.
Support for recreational marijuana varies between 46 and 58 percent, and a massive 80 percent support medical marijuana.
“How do we move forward out of this legal gray area weirdness?” YouTube blogger Hank Green asked the president.
“What I am doing at the federal level is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating nonviolent drug offenders, because I think you’re right,” Obama responded.
According to Obama, we should move away from thinking about marijuana as a criminal issue and reframe it as more of a public health issue. The president noted that in the past, enforcement of marijuana as a Schedule 1 has continued to perpetuate stark racial inequalities.
“What we have done is instead of focusing on treatment — the same way we focused, say, with tobacco or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as public health problem — we’ve treated this exclusively as a criminal problem,” the president said. “I think that it’s been counterproductive, and it’s been devastating in a lot of minority communities. It presents the possibility at least of unequal application of the law, and that has to be changed.”
Activists continue to surge forward in other states. In Hawaii, legislators are moving to decriminalize the drug. Under a bill recently introduced, marijuana use would result in a $100 dollar fine, rather than a jail sentence. Some are skeptical that decriminalization in Hawaii will succeed, but as in other states, there exists bipartisan support for medical marijuana.
“Now that the Obama administration has given marijuana legalization a chance to succeed in Colorado and Washington, we’ve been able to demonstrate that what our movement has said for years about generating tax revenue, reducing crime and freeing up limited police resources is true,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The president is right that in the coming years even more states will move away from prohibition and toward responsible regulation.”
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