President Obama says marijuana use is no more dangerous than alcohol,though he regards it as a bad habit he hopes his children will avoid.
"Ashas been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a badhabit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smokedas a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,'' he said in amagazine interview. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
He said marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.''
"It'snot something I encourage, and I've told my daughters I think it's abad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy," he said.
Obama made his remarks in a series of interviews with The New Yorker, which published a story about the conversations in its Jan. 27 issue and on its website.
Marijuanaremains illegal to possess or sell under federal law, although Coloradoand Washington have adopted state laws making it legal to possess anduse small amounts. A number of states have decriminalized the weed andauthorized it for medical uses.
Obama said he was troubled by the disproportionate arrests and imprisonment of minorities on marijuana charges.
"Middle-classkids 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 poorand less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid undulyharsh penalties.
"We should not be locking up kids or individualusers for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who arewriting those laws have probably done the same thing,'' he said.
Hesaid legalizations of marijuana in Colorado and Washington areimportant experiments "because it's important for society not to have asituation in which a large portion of people have at one time or anotherbroken the law and only a select few get punished."
At the sametime, Obama said legalization is no panacea for social problems and theexperiment with legalization in those two states "is going to be, Ithink, a challenge.''
Mason Tvert, director of communications forthe Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, which advocates forlegalization, said Obama's remarks underscore the need for reconsideringfederal and state marijuana prohibitions.
"The first step toimproving our nation's marijuana policy is admitting that marijuana isless harmful than alcohol. Now that he has recognized that laws jailingadults for using marijuana are inappropriate, it is time to amend forthose errors and adopt a more fact-based marijuana policy,'' Tvert said.
"Everyobjective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmfulthan alcohol to the consumer and to society. Marijuana is less toxic andless addictive than alcohol, and it does not contribute to violent andaggressive behavior like alcohol does,'' he added. "Our laws should bebased on the facts, and it's a fact that marijuana is much safer thanalcohol."
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug PolicyAlliance, hailed the president's comments and said his description ofthe Colorado and Washington moves as important "really puts the wind inthe sails of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.''