This post has been updated.
President Obama said he felt that marijuana is not more dangerous than alcohol and that he is troubled by the disproportionate jail time served by minorities for marijuana use.
“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,” he said in an interview with The New Yorker published Sunday. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
Obama said that minorities receive harsher punishments than middle-class people when it comes to marijuana.
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “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.”
When asked about legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, which the administration has already said it won’t block, Obama said that the country needs to address punishments for marijuana use.
“It’s important for it 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,” he said.
Obama stopped short of endorsing the legalization of marijuana use throughout the country.
“Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge,” he said.
“I also think that, 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. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?”