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Critics slam Obama over pot interview

May encourage teen use with remarks

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DENVER — President Obama's recent pro-pot remarks drew criticism Tuesday from foes of marijuana legalization who say he may have given a green light to teenagers on getting high.

"For those of us that live in Colorado, we are talking about the futures of our children," said Diane Carlson, spokeswoman for Smart Colorado, in a statement. "They only get one childhood. We doubt President Obama would talk so casually if the future health and safety of his daughters were in such peril."

Mr. Obama said in a wide-ranging interview with the New Yorker that he smoked pot in his teens, which he described as a "bad habit" but not a particularly dangerous one. The president's comments appear in the Jan. 27 issue.

"As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," Mr. Obama said in the interview. "I don't think [pot] is more dangerous than alcohol."

Ms. Carlson said she was disappointed that the president failed to deliver a stronger anti-pot message to teens, citing studies that show adolescent marijuana use can stunt brain development.

"We would have hoped the president would have distinguished between adults using marijuana and adolescents using as the negative impacts to the developing brain are irrefutable," said Ms. Carlson. "Of tremendous concern in Colorado is the impact of the highly potent pot being sold here, which is much different than the weed the President smoked as a youth."

His remarks come weeks after Colorado became the first state in the nation to open retail marijuana stores for adults 21 and over. Both Colorado and Washington voters passed measures in November 2012 legalizing adult pot sales for recreational purposes.

Washington's retail pot shops are expected to open in June, according to the state's Liquor Control Board, which is overseeing the program.

Products on sale in Colorado include marijuana-laced edibles like soda, cookies and candy that may appeal to teenagers, as well as concentrates with THC potency levels of more than 70 percent.

Gina Carbone of Smart Colorado said she watching the news Monday night with her four children when the president's comments appeared onscreen, along with photos of him smoking pot as a teenager.

"I was there with my four boys to explain to them why smoking pot is bad for you, but what about the kids who see this and don't have anyone to explain it to them?" said Ms. Carbone. "He could have been more careful about how he said this."

Mr. Obama did say that he hoped his two daughters would avoid smoking marijuana. He also criticized sentencing disparities surrounding drug use, saying, "Middle class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do."

Patrick Kennedy, chairman of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group, said the criminal-justices issues can be addressed without legalizing pot.

"Marijuana legalization is not necessary to make these reforms," said Mr. Kennedy in a statement. "We encourage President Obama to reform laws without compromising the interests of public health and safety."

The non-profit Smart Colorado is focused on "protecting the health and safety of youth" as the state implements legalized adult marijuana.

"Sadly, the president's words couldn't come at a worse time for Colorado youth as Denver may soon have over 300 marijuana stores in the city," said Ms. Carlson.

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