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Obama: pot "a vice" but no more dangerous than alcohol - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency from the Justice Department in Washington January 17, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency from the Justice Department in Washington January 17, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Washington, Reuters—US President Barack Obama said smoking marijuana is a “bad habit” but legal penalties now fall disproportionately on minorities, and states legalizing pot should go ahead with their plans,

In a New Yorker magazine profile released on Sunday Obama added: “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. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

The president said he has told his daughters that smoking marijuana is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,”
but he said he was concerned that marijuana-related arrests fell far more heavily on minorities than on others. Legalization of pot should go forward in the states of Colorado and Washington 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.

Marijuana remains illegal in the United States under federal law, but 21 US states allow or are about to allow medical use of marijuana, while Colorado and Washington have decriminalized use of pot entirely. Alaska and the District of Columbia are considering following suit.

The Obama administration said last year that federal law enforcement would not target users in Colorado and Washington, so long as they complied with their respective states’ laws.

The Department of Justice said it would not interfere with states’ efforts to regulate and tax marijuana provided they were able to meet a set of requirements, including keeping it away from children and restricting its flow into other states.

The president also said he believed that those who argue that legalizing marijuana will solve a number of social problems “are probably overstating the case.” Legalization in Colorado and Washington will likely be a challenge, he said.

In the lengthy profile, the president muses over race, the Middle East, and criticism of his efforts to woo Congress, among other topics. Discussing race, he said that he believed some people would never accept having a black president.

Obama also said that the three sets of negotiations involving Iran, Israel and the Palestinians and Syria each had less than a 50-50 chance of succeeding, but were necessary steps toward achieving stability in a volatile region. “If we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion .  .  . you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare,” he said.

On the question of whether Obama might write a memoir, former senior adviser to the president David Axelrod called it a “slam dunk” that he would. A literary agent estimated that publishers would pay between 17 million and 20 million US dollars for such a memoir.

Obama said narrowing the gap between rich and poor would be a key part of his legacy. “I will measure myself at the end of my presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class and reversing the trend towards economic bifurcation in this society,” he said.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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