WH: Obama's comments on marijuana don't signal policy shift

Jan. 22, 2014 at 5:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama wasn't suggesting a new drug policy in recent comments on decriminalization of marijuana in two states, the White House said.

Obama didn't change his position that marijuana should not be legalized, despite saying in a weekend article in the New Yorker magazine that decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado should "go forward," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

"I think he was making a couple of points; one, that we ought to use discretion appropriately in our prosecution of priorities -- prioritization," Carney said, "[Two], when it comes to marijuana use, he made clear that he sees it as a bad habit and a vice and not something that he would encourage. And this is a quote. 'It's not something I encourage, and I've told my daughters I think it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.'"

Obama believes decriminalization in Washington and Colorado must move forward because "it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished," the press secretary said.

"In other words, he's talking about the issue of the disparities in our prosecution of our drug laws, that, you know, an experiment like this may be addressing," Carney said. "He's not endorsing any specific move by a state. He's simply making an observation, his position of these matters has not changed."

Obama told The New Yorker he did not consider the developments in the two states to be a "panacea," but an important step in rectifying the current situation in the United States in which poor people are often arrested on marijuana charges but middle-class and the wealthy are not.

Obama said he was concerned that legalizing marijuana nationwide would open the door to the idea that more potent drugs such as cocaine could also be legalized.

"When it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound, and you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues," he said.

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