President Barack Obama addressed the topic of marijuana legalization in an interview with VICE News yesterday.
VICE founder Shane Smith raised the issue of marijuana legalization in a video interview with the President, noting that legalizing marijuana would leave a lasting legacy among the nation’s youth. President Obama responded first by noting that, despite the clear popularity of the issue, legalization “shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority.”
The President went on to draw a clear line between the issue of cannabis decriminalization and the broader issue of legalization, criticizing the failed criminal justice policies of the War on Drugs:
“I think there is no doubt that our criminal justice system generally is so heavily skewed towards cracking down on non-violent drug offenders that it has not just had a terrible effect on many communities, particularly communities of color, rendering a lot of folks unemployable because they got felony records [and] disproportionate prison sentences.”
He also noted that more and more states are recognizing the fact that such policies come with a heavy financial burden, and that this has led in part to an encouraging level of bipartisanship on the issue: “You’re starting to see not just liberal democrats, but also some very conservative republicans, recognize [that] this doesn’t make sense…They see the money and how costly it is to incarcerate.”
President Obama stated that decriminalization at the federal level is conceivable if the trend among states continues: “At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.”
In a disappointing turn, the President makes several unrelated comparisons of cannabis with harder, more dangerous drugs.
He ended the interview with a final comment on the failure of U.S. criminal justice policies: “Substance abuse generally, legal and illegal substances, is a problem. Locking somebody up for twenty years is probably not the best strategy, and that’s something that we have to rethink as a society as a whole.”
Photo Credit: Nick Knupffer