President Obama signaled he is open to supporting medical marijuana, saying “we should follow the science as opposed to ideology” on the issue.
In an interview with CNN that aired Sunday, Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked the president whether he would support a Senate bill that would roll back federal restrictions on medical marijuana.
The president stopped short of backing the legislation. But he said: “I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue.”
Obama’s interview aired as part of a CNN documentary on the eve of 4/20, an unofficial holiday for marijuana users.
The president has long faced pressure from marijuana legalization advocates to remove it from the federal government’s list of most dangerous drugs, a step that could lead to sweeping changes to the nation’s drug laws. Obama, however, has not endorsed such a move.
Public opinion has shifted over the past several years to back legalized marijuana. A Pew Research Center poll from March showed 53 percent of adults believe the drug should be legal.
Obama has been open to changes to federal drug policy. In 2012, he said that people who use recreational pot in states that legalized it, Colorado and Washington, should not be high priorities for federal law enforcement.
Late last month, the president commuted the sentences of 22 people convicted of drug crimes, part of a push to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders in federal prisons.
“I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we're going to be,” he told CNN.
The bipartisan Senate bill, known as the CARERS Act, would restrict the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-level medical marijuana programs. It would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, less dangerous substances that have accepted medical uses.
The president called for wholesale changes to the way the U.S. handles drug offenses, saying the government should look to tobacco regulations as a model.
“One of the great victories of this country has been our ability to reduce incidences of smoking, increase the incidences of seat belt use,” he said. “You know, we save tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives every single year. We didn't throw anybody in jail; we just made sure that they were well-informed and if somebody has an addiction, we made sure that we made it easy for them to get help.”