In an “exit interview” with Rolling Stone, President Obama spoke about decriminalizing marijuana and treating cannabis as a public-health issue rather than a criminal one.
“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. 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. 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.”
Throughout his presidency, Obama has taken a hands-off approach to pot. In 2013, his administration announced that they wouldn’t sue to stop recreational marijuana in Colorado after voters passed Amendment 64. Soon after, the Justice Department followed suit. However, advocates in state’s that have some form of legal cannabis are nervous about what the Trump incoming administration means for the cannabis industry.
“If you survey the American people, including Trump voters, they’re…in favor, in large numbers, of decriminalizing marijuana,” Obama said.
It’s unclear what stance Trump will take on marijuana, but many advocates are concerned about the president-elect’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sessions is a long-time opponent of cannabis, perhaps best known for his statements that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan “were okay until I found out they smoked pot.”
Even if this new administration plans to shut down marijuana, it may be difficult to put the pot genie back in the bottle. After this year’s election, more than that half of U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana and seven states plus the District of Columbia have approved recreational marijuana.
“It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a twenty-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage,” said Obama.