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Obama signals support for legalizing medical marijuana

2014-15 Fellow. Quartz Things team.

In a CNN documentary aired for the first time Sunday night, on the eve of the informal April 20 holiday celebrating cannabis subculture, US president Barack Obama reiterated his support for medicinal use of marijuana and moving towards decriminalization of the drug.

In the documentary, “Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution,” CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta asked the president if he supported the US Senate’s efforts to recognize the medicinal benefits of marijuana by demoting the drug from a Schedule I classification—reserved for drugs “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”—to a Schedule II (a category of drugs acknowledged for medical use, with less potential for abuse).

Obama reportedly replied:

“You know, I think I’d have to take a look at the details, but I’m on record as saying that not only do 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, but 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.”

Obama has gradually eased into floating his views on marijuana legalization, stressing a pragmatic and science-based approach. He has long opposed wanton use of federal resources to pursue marijuana violations, though the country’s Office of National Drug Control Policy web site states that “The Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana.” In February, he expressed support for removing criminal penalties for non-violent drug offenders, according to ThinkProgress, and has also said that he expects more states to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

As of April 2015, medical marijuana is legal in 23 US states and the District of Columbia. Nine states have pending legislation. Recreational use is legal in four states.

"We should follow the science."

Vice President Joe Biden Not High on Marijuana Legalization

T he Obama Administration is not pushing marijuana legalization on the federal level, Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday in an exclusive interview with TIME.

Just weeks after President Barack Obama told the New Yorker that the drug is no more dangerous than alcohol, Biden said the Administration supports smarter enforcement, but not outright legalization. “I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources,” Biden told TIME in an interview aboard an Amtrak train on the way to an event in Philadelphia. “That’s different than [legalization]. Our policy for our Administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy.”

The outspoken lawmaker, who came out in support of gay marriage before his boss, was reserved on the subject, taking caution not to get out ahead of Obama. Biden’s position is essentially unchanged from a 2010 interview with ABC News in which he called marijuana a “gateway drug.”

In the interview with David Remnick, Obama said “it’s important for” legalization to go forward in Colorado and Washington, because of racial and economic disparities in enforcement. Asked about Obama’s comments, Biden said, “Look, I support the President’s policy.” The President put the brakes on calls for executive action to legalize marijuana in an interview with CNN last week, saying it was a decision for Congress, not the White House.

In the Senate, Biden was on the forefront of the Democratic Party’s war on crime, authoring or co-sponsoring legislation that created the federal “drug czar” and mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana and the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine.

“I am not only the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar, but I’m also the guy who spent years when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of [the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] trying to change drug policy relative to cocaine, for example, crack and powder,” Biden says.

In an exclusive interview with TIME, the Vice President also defends his record on criminal-justice reform