Obama made what could be his final public comments on marijuana as President of the United States.
Several weeks ago, the marijuana industry enjoyed its biggest night as eight states approved major policy reform. Unfortunately for those working in legal marijuana, the newfound excitement has already given way to a familiar fear.
Even as the use of marijuana has been legalized in 28 states, fear of dispensary shutdowns, denial of safe access to medicine, and mass incarcerations that plagued the industry for years have resurfaced. President-elect Donald Trump has chosen to nominate Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Sessions has been a prominent opponent of the marijuana reform movement for years. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions once said, bluntly.
However, our current president may be helping to calm the nerves of the marijuana industry.
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, President Obama discussed the future of marijuana law.
“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse,” Obama said. “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.”
While advocates of marijuana reform have hoped to see Obama change the issue while he is in office, the president, as he has stated previously, believes the issue cannot be fixed by the Executive Branch alone. “Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict,” Obama said, “but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. 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.”
Before he won the White House, Obama had been vocal about his support for marijuana decriminalization. “We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws,” he said during a 2004 debate while running for the U.S. Senate. Expectations for marijuana supporters rose even higher during the 2008 presidential campaign. Excerpts of his 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” were widely publicized during that time. In the book, Obama detailed his frequent marijuana use as a teen.
After emerging victorious in the 2008 election, he took a more subdued approach to marijuana, especially in the early years of his presidential administration. Often, he would avoid the discussion altogether.
Obama has suggested that he may return to being more vocal on the subject after he leaves the White House.
“I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go” on marijuana, he said.