Obama: Marijuana should be treated like 'cigarettes or alcohol'
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President Obama says marijuana should be treated the same way as "cigarettes or alcohol."

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"Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse,” Obama said in an interview with Rolling Stone this week.

“And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it.”

Obama has made similar comments in the past, once telling the New Yorker that marijuana was less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

"Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the [Drug Enforcement Administration]," Obama told Rolling Stone. "As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues."

The president added that in light of a wave of state-level legalizations, "it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another."

"So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal," he said.

The discussion over marijuana legalization has reached ballots in several states. Recreational marijuana use is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. Laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana recently passed in California, Nevada and Massachusetts. Medical marijuana use is legal in 25 states. The state laws are in direct opposition to federal laws that prohibit marijuana, which has led many to wonder whether the president or federal agency such as the DEA would made the drug legal nationwide.

Since the 1970s, the DEA has classified marijuana under the most highly restrictive category of regulation: Schedule 1, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” Heroin is another drug in the Schedule 1 category.