Barack Obama says marijuana should be treated 'like alcohol or cigarettes'

A bill on medicinal cannabis has just passed the second stage in the Dáil

Barack Obama says marijuana should be treated 'like alcohol or cigarettes'

US President Barack Obama attends a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel | Image: Markus Schreiber AP/Press Association Images

Barack Obama has said cannabis needs to be treated as a public-health issue, in the same way alcohol and cigarettes are.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he said the current patchwork of state and federal laws regarding the drug "untenable".

“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse,” Obama said. “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.”

It mirrors similar statements he made in 2014, when he told The New Yorker that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of terms of its impact on the individual consumer".

“It’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished," he said, referring to the drug's legalisation in Colorado and Washington.

More recently, he told TV host Bill Maher, "I think we're going to have to have a more serious conversation about how we are treating marijuana and our drug laws generally."

“It’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

However, he's also discussed at length the complications surrounding full legislation, calling it "a slippery slope".

"If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?" he said in The New Yorker. "If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?"

Though he smoked as a teenager, he has actively discouraged his daughter Malia and Sasha from picking up the habit.

"It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

Ireland's stance

Medicinal cannabis legislation has passed the second stage in Dáil and is on course to be legalised by Easter next year

It comes after the Government decided not to oppose the bill - put forward from People Before Profit TD, Gino Kenny - which would allow doctors to prescribe the drug to people with serious illnesses.

A survey found that over 90% of Irish people support the legalisation of the drug on medical grounds.

The research, conducted by Rec C and commissioned by non-profit health organisation Help Not Harm, shows that levels of support are highest in Munster counties at 94%.

“The people have compassion enough to provide necessary treatment for those who need it, it’s now up  to legislators to follow their lead”, Tom Curran, a Deputy Director of Help Not Harm said.