President Obama has come out in favor of ending prohibition in a recent exit interview conducted by pop culture magazine Rolling Stone. The President expressed his belief that marijuana should be treated in the same way alcohol and cigarettes are handled. His sentiments reflect the attitude held by the majority of Americans today. According to the latest Gallup poll, 60 percent of the country are in favor of federal marijuana legalization. A CBS News Survey revealed that 70 percent of Republicans believe that state decisions regarding marijuana law should be respected.
The Summer’s DEA Disappointment
According to classifications determined by the DEA, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which means it is illegal on a federal level and regarded to be as dangerous as heroin and LSD in addition to having no medicinal benefits. The DEA were asked by several Senators, including Elizabeth Warren, to reschedule or de-schedule the plant this year. After reviewing the issue all year, the DEA decided in August that federal marijuana legalization would not be on the cards. The reason given was that there was not enough government research done on the medical benefits. However, it was the DEA’s restrictions that prevented this research; the reason there was not enough research done was that, due to the fact that the plant is illegal, government approved studies were not able to be conducted. The DEA decided to allow certain scientists who applied and fulfilled their complex criteria to study the plant and its medicinal purposes. Ultimately, the DEA’s position seemed more like a delay of the inevitable but many were disappointed by the decision.
“Treating This as a Public-Health Issue”
When Rolling Stone interviewer Jan Wenner pressed Obama on the subject, he said, “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. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict 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.”
A Country Ripe for Federal Marijuana Legalization
Obama said that the subject was ripe for discussion now, especially when a fifth of the country has chosen to legalize the plant. November’s election passed 8 new laws across the country. 4 more states, including Florida, chose to legalize medical marijuana and California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine joined Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and D.C. in legalizing recreational marijuana. More than half the country already has marijuana legal in some form, yet there are still people serving 20 year sentences for being found with small amounts of marijuana. The contrast is so stark, a review of the issue seems urgent, as lives continue to be ruined across the country for having marijuana in the wrong state.
Despite the fact that Trump has just appointed a prohibitionist as Attorney General, Obama’s support and advocacy for progress adds fire to the current debate. Only time will tell whether Trump honors his word and chooses to not interfere with state laws across the country or whether his administration will create new blockages. As it stands, the majority of the country, including the current president, are in favor of federal marijuana legalization.