President Obama officially leaves the White House next month and he recently did his last interview as President with Rolling Stone Magazine, one of his staunchest supporters in the media.
As you can imagine, he covered a lot of topics from his legacy to Clinton’s election night loss to the incoming Trump Administration. But he also touched some on his feelings about cannabis and its future legality.
“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.”
Knowing that many cannabis activists have been critical of him and his slowness in regards to marijuana law reform, Obama claimed his hands were tied and change would have to come from elsewhere. “Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict,” he 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.”
“While President Obama’s comments are correct, and we certainly appreciate how he gave room for states to set their own policies during his administration, it would have been very helpful if he had taken more concrete positive action on this issue before it was almost time to vacate the Oval Office,” said Tom Angell, founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority. “That this president didn’t apply pressure on the DEA to reschedule marijuana this year will likely go down as one of the biggest disappointments of the Obama era. However, there is still time to help people who are suffering under drug policies that President Obama correctly criticizes. He could, for example, effectuate blanket commutations of sentences for people who are serving time behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes for no good reason whatsoever. Now, more than ever, it’s time for President Obama to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk."
Words are helpful to be sure, but actions are, more often than not, more helpful.