President Barack Obama on Thursday said he wants to treat marijuana like tobacco, which is legal. But, in a bit of a contradiction, he also suggested he opposes marijuana legalization.
In an interview with Kansas City news station KMBC, Obama said states could change their marijuana laws to discourage pot use in the same way tobacco use is discouraged:
As a general matter, I think that we have to separate out legalization — you know, there’s a lot of concern about drug abuse of any sort by our children and the general population — versus the heavy criminalization of non-violent drug offenses. And I think that a lot of states are taking a look to see, do we have proportionality in terms of how we are penalizing the recreational user? We still want to discourage that. But we’ve been able to discourage tobacco, we’ve been able to discourage a lot of other bad things that people do, through a public health approach as opposed to an incarceration approach.
The president drew a key distinction in his comments, which echo previous statements he made to CNN. He appears to support marijuana decriminalization, which would remove criminal penalties, particularly prison time, attached to the drug. But he doesn’t seem to support marijuana legalization, which would remove even misdemeanor penalties, including small fines, and potentially allow retail outlets to sell pot.
There’s an obvious contradiction in Obama’s comments: he vouches for treating marijuana like tobacco, but tobacco isn’t just decriminalized — it’s legal and sold in stores, and excluded from the federal government’s scheduling system, which evaluates drugs for medical value first and abuse potential second.