In a long-ranging New Yorker interview released on Sunday, President Obama revealed that he thinks state-by-state legislation is the way to go when it comes to marijuana. While he called the drug "a bad habit and a vice," he insists it's no worse than alcohol. The comments have given state lawmakers and citizens hope that legal weed is right around the corner.
To be clear, Obama is not advocating that we should all get high. He is worried about the disproportionate punishments minorities face for marijuana possession:
It's important for [legalization] to go 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. ... Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do … And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.
Oregon, which could be the third state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana, is emboldened by Obama's comments. Republican State Rep. Vicki Berger told the Statesman-Journal, "I think we [lawmakers] are behind the eight ball, and Obama’s remarks just strengthen my opinion on that. Maybe his remarks will get us more proactive." That goes for citizens too: Obama's comments "will certainly have an impact on voters in the state of Oregon."
Donald Morse, who runs a medical dispensary in Portland, told the Journal, "I think it will influence people throughout the country. I think that’s why he made the comments."
Pot legalization is set to become a 2014 ballot initiative in Oregon. Activists in California, Florida, and Alaska have also been gathering signatures to put weed on the ballot for the midterm elections. Florida is looking to legalize only medical marijuana, but as the Los Angeles Times notes, it would be the first southern state to do anything about pot.
In the Northeast, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York will run a medical marijuana pilot program this year. And embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised in his inaugural address on Tuesday to end blanket incarceration for drug crimes:
We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse. We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands that every life has value and no life is disposable.
Some don't think weed should be legalized under any circumstances, of course. MSNBC's Chris Matthews echoed fellow pundits Joe Scarborough, David Brooks, and Tina Brown — people who have a very low chance of having their lives ruined by a drug arrest — on his show Monday night when he proclaimed, "I think dope, marijuana makes you sort of vague out, and sort of lose interest in tomorrow, two weeks from now, two months from now. Where ya headed? I do believe that." But Matthews still sees the writing on the wall: "I don't think [Obama's] right on this one because I think people have addictive personalities and some people react to freedom differently than others and we better be ready for it because it's coming now."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.