President Obama wasn’t trying to set new federal drug policy when he stated that Colorado and Washington state should “go forward” with new laws legalizing marijuana use, the White House said Wednesday.
“The president’s position on these matters hasn’t changed,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “He made clear that he sees it as a bad habit and a vice, and not something that he would encourage. He’s not endorsing any specific move by a state, he’s simply making an observation.”
Under federal law, marijuana use is illegal. The president has acknowledged smoking marijuana — former friends in his so-called “Choom Gang” say he smoked heavily — as an adolescent growing up in Hawaii.
In an interview with the New Yorker magazine, Mr. Obama said marijuana is no more harmful than cigarettes or alcohol. That contradicts the National Drug Control Policy’s official stance, posted on the whitehouse.gov website, which says marijuana smoke has significantly more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. The government also says that adolescent use of marijuana causes permanent brain damage, something alcohol does not.
Mr. Carney said the president was also making the point in the interview that law-enforcement officials too often display bias in prosecuting for marijuana offenses, saying many people smoke pot but only a few get punished.
“There’s no question that we’ve applied our drug laws in way that’s been counterproductive and that there are issues there that need to be addressed,” Mr. Carney said.