Obama's pot comments: The partisan reactions may surprise you

Not all voices on the political right are dissing President Obama for his recent comments on marijuana use. Meanwhile, some on the left are taking issue with his characterization of pot's relative dangers.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama talks about National Security Agency surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington. In an interview with New Yorker magazine released Sunday, the president made comments on marijuana use.

President Obama’s comments on marijuana continue to roil US politics Tuesday. Some pundits say Mr. Obama has brought needed perspective to the legalization debate by in essence playing down pot’s dangers. But others believe he’s wrong on the science of addiction and has made it harder for parents to handle a difficult issue with their kids.

“Whatever we decide to do in terms of legalization ... the president might at least refrain from giving every teen in the country a comeback to his parents (‘But the president says ...‘),” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on her conservative-leaning “Right Turn” blog.

In case you missed it, here’s the backstory: In an interview with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick released Sunday, the president said that marijuana is not any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco in terms of its impact on individuals.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama said.

The president told Mr. Remnick that he’s disturbed by the disparities in punishment for marijuana use. Minorities and poor people are more likely to be arrested and locked up for smoking or selling pot than are middle-class Americans, according to Obama.

But he added that he’s aware that pot legalization could lead to slippery-slope arguments about normalizing the use of other drugs. And the president said that as a parent he’s warned Sasha and Malia about the dangers of the drug.

“I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time,” said Obama.

Interestingly, political reaction to these statements cuts across partisan lines to some extent.

Some Republicans do argue that the GOP, as a party, should oppose legalization. Republican strategist Ed Rogers wrote Monday that “Republicans need to be clear: Marijuana use doesn’t lead to anything helpful or productive. The president won’t say so, but Republican leaders should.”

But others on the right argue that individual liberty would be increased and societal costs decreased if the US dialed back federal opposition to marijuana.

“We should at least be talking about reducing the penalties, danger, and illegality for a drug that society decided a long time ago it likes,” writes Allahpundit on the conservative-leaning "Hot Air" site.

Meanwhile, not all liberals agree with Obama’s comments. Chris Matthews, normally a reliable administration supporter, said on his MSNBC show “Hardball” Monday that Obama is wrong to say pot is no more dangerous than alcohol. Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and chairman of the advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, agreed with Mr. Matthews and added that today’s pot is much more potent and dangerous than the weed Obama smoked during his teenage “Choom Gang” days.

“He’s wrong when he says it isn’t very harmful,” said Mr. Kennedy on “Hardball.”

As to the possible reaction of voters, polls indicate that support for marijuana legalization has recently passed a threshold, with a majority in favor. Last October a Gallup survey found 58 percent of Americans said pot should be legal.

And Obama’s words may have political effects in the relatively short term. Other states are planning to follow Colorado and Washington State’s lead and put referenda on pot legalization on the ballot.

In Oregon, for instance, advocates are gathering signatures in a campaign that appears somewhat likely to put recreational marijuana use up to voters in 2014. The president’s position on the issue “will certainly have an impact on voters in the state of Oregon,” state Rep. Vicki Berger (R) told the Statesman Journal newspaper.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.