Obama Talks Marijuana Decriminalization and Reclassification

The president keeps evolving on pot.

A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York.

Photographer: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is the most powerful former marijuana smoker in America. He's never tried to conceal that, but he has generally laughed off the questions—and there have been many—about whether he'd legalize marijuana.

Only recently, with no more elections to fight for his party, has Obama started to tell interviewers that he wants softer treatment of a popular drug that shares Schedule I status with far deadlier substances like heroin and LSD. In an interview with Vice, after a semi-apologetic question from Shane Smith, Obama expressed optimism that marijuana could be reclassified.

"We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side," said Obama. "At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana."

Since 2012, three states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana. In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal for more than a year, the drug has proven not only popular but lucrative. Obama's comments to Vice went even farther than what he'd told a YouTube forum in January. "The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance," he said, "but we’re not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue."

Decriminalization advocates welcomed the new interview, but asked for more. "The president is right that as voters force more and more changes to state marijuana laws, national policymakers will have no choice but to catch up," said Tom Angell, chairman of the activist group Marijuana Majority, in a statement. "In fact, his administration can reschedule marijuana without any further Congressional action needed. He should do that.”

Indeed, just last week a trio of senators introduced legislation that would remove the threat of felony prosecution for people who use marijuana -- medicinally or recreationally -- in states where it's currently legal. Asked what Kentucky Senator Rand Paul thought of Obama's comment, spokesman Doug Stafford pointed back to the new bill.

"Just introduced it last week with Cory Booker and Kirsten Gilibrand," said Stafford. "Did a press conference and everything. Welcome, we'd love their support for it."