During his YouTube interview on Jan. 22 (cue to the 11-minute mark), Pres. Obama fielded the following marijuana question from the appropriately-named Hank Green, a self-styled YouTube star from Missoula, Montana.
Green: "I don't smoke pot. It's just not for me. I think it's bad for my brain. A lot of people think I do smoke pot because I'm in favor of legalizing marijuana. We're in a really weird place with marijuana right now. It's illegal in some places. It's illegal everywhere but in some places it's kind of OK. But if a state think it's not OK then let's throw those people in jail. It leads to excessive incarceration, especially among minorities. In places where it's been legalized, everything's doing OK. How do we move forward out of this legal gray area weirdness?"
Obama: "What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana. The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance.
'But we’re not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you’re going to see other states start looking at this.
"What I am doing at the federal level is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating nonviolent drug offenders. Because I think you’re right, what we have done is instead of focusing on treatment - the same way we focused say with tobacco or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as a public health problem - we’ve treated this exclusively as a criminal problem. And I think that it’s been counterproductive and it’s been devastating in a lot of minority communities. It presents the possibility at least of unequal application of the law and that has to be changed.
"Now the good news is that we’re starting to get some interest from Republicans as well as Democrats in reforming the criminal justice system. We’ve been able to initiate some changes administratively and last year you had the first time in 40 years where the crime rate and the incarceration rate went down at the same time. I hope we can continue with those trends because they’re just a smarter way of dealing with these issues."