“The incarceration model that we've taken particularly around marijuana, does not seem to have produced the kinds of results that we've set,” said the president in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper aired on Friday.
Obama was pressed on his recent comments in a New Yorker profile, where he said that marijuana was “not very different” from cigarettes, adding that he did not believe it was “more dangerous” than alcohol.
Asked if he would change the designation of marijuana as a “Schedule One” narcotic, Obama responded that it was “a job for Congress.”
“But the broader point, I stand by my belief, based, I think, on the scientific evidence, that,marijuana, for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is, uh, and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge,” Obama explained.
The president said his concern was the sentencing disparity for marijuana users. Critics of sentencing guidelines say that harsher criminal penalties are often given to racial minorities or the poor.
“My concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly and in some cases with a racial disparity,” said Obama.
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use, but Obama said that the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder would “continue to enforce federal laws.”
“In those states, we recognize that we don't have the resources — the federal government doesn't have the resources to police whether somebody is smoking a joint on a corner,” he continued. “We are trying to provide them structures to make sure that, you know, big time drug traffickers, the spillover effect of the violence, potentially, of a drug trade are not creeping out of this experiment … that is taking place.”
The president offered skepticism toward those who call for drug legalization and said the focus should be on dissuading young people from turning to drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
“Over the long-term, what I believe is if we can deal with some of the criminal penalty issues, then we can really tackle what is a problem not just for marijuana, but also alcohol, also cigarettes, also, uh, harder drugs, and that is, try to make sure that our kids don't get, uh, don't get into these habits in the first place,” said Obama.
“Those who think legalization is a panacea, I think they have to ask themselves some tough questions, too,” he said.