Obama: Legalization Is Coming

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Legalization is on its way to more places, and nothing can stop it. Even the president thinks so.

obama smilingPresident Obama posted a video on YouTube in late January, shortly after his State of the Union address, in which he said cannabis use should be viewed as a health issue, not a reason to arrest people.

The president sat down for a YouTube interview with several Americans, and questions of marijuana policy quickly came up.

“How do we move forward out of this legal gray area weirdness?” asked Hank Green, one of the posters behind the influential Vlogbrothers channel.

Reform has come a long way

Obama’s answer was mostly canned, and it offered no hints of any future policy changes, but it serves as a reminder of just how far reform has already come.

“What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana,” Obama said. “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. My suspicion is that you’re gonna see other states start looking at this.”

The president is hardly alone in his predictions. A poll last year found roughly three quarters of all Americans believe weed will be legal everywhere soon.

The Obama administration has already made changes to adapt to the rapidly changing legal environment for cannabis. Under his orders, the Department of Justice announced in 2013 that federal agents would no longer target pot users, growers, or sellers in states where the drug is legal.

Legal states must uphold federal priorities

In turn, those states must uphold eight federal priorities, such as a mandate to stop interstate trafficking. So far, the arrangement seems to be working, although officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma have sued to block legalization in Colorado there because they say pot is pouring across their borders.

american flag marijuana leaf“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 told Green.

The president said he believes concerns about pot use are better addressed by the health system than the criminal justice system. That attitude could go a long way towards expanding medical weed in America; Obama signed a bill late last year that bars the DOJ from spending money on anti-MMJ efforts.

“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.”

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