President Barack Obama said during a Nov. 9 "exit interview" that, when it comes to the law and national discourse, marijuana should be in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol and called on the government to work toward changing "untenable" federal laws regarding the substance.
"Look, I've been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse," Obama told Rolling Stone in an interview published on Nov. 29. "And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it."
Obama pointed out the morning after the presidential election that there was little he could do on an executive level to change the laws regarding recreational and medical marijuana, just as there is little that President-elect Donald Trump can do once he assumes office.
"Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA," the president added. "As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues."
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Indeed, while the DEA continues to classify marijuana along with heroin as a Schedule I drug – which means that it is dangerous and has little to no medical use – national support for legalization continues to skyrocket. A full 60 percent majority of Americans believe that it should be legal, according to an October Gallup poll.
Obama explained to Rolling Stone that he intends to be vocal and active on the grassroots level "as a private citizen" when it comes to reform regarding marijuana laws once he leaves office and said that the existing laws need to change soon.
"It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another," he added. "So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal."