President Barack Obama seemed open to the idea of decriminalizing marijuana and said he was "encouraged" by bipartisan efforts in Congress, even as he said it shouldn't be the "biggest priority" for young people.
“At a certain point if enough states end up decriminalizing, Congress may then reschedule marijuana,” Obama said in an interview with Vice published Monday. “But I always say to folks, legalization or decriminalization is not a panacea. Do we feel the same way about meth? Do we feel the same way about coke? How about crack? How about heroin? There is a legitimate concern about the overall affects this has on our society, particularly vulnerable parts of our society. Substance abuse, legal and illegal substances, is a problem. Locking somebody up for 20 years is probably not the best strategy.”
The states of Washington, Colorado and Alaska, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana, in conflict with federal law.
The question about legalizing marijuana was the mostly widely submitted question by readers of Vice, which targets a younger audience.
“It shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority,” Obama said.
“I’d separate out the issue of decriminalization of marijuana from encouraging its use," he continued. "I think there is no doubt our criminal justice system generally is so heavily skewed on cracking down towards nonviolent 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, disproportionate prison sentances, it costs a huge amount to states and a lot of states are starting to figure that out."
Obama said members of both parties seem to support decriminalization, even making a subtle reference to likely 2016 contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who recently co-sponsored a medical marijuana bill.
“What I’m encouraged by is you’re starting to see not just liberal Democrats, but some very conservative Republicans recognize this doesn’t make sense, including sort of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party,” Obama said. “They see the money and how costly it is to incarcerate.”