President Barack Obama has said that smoking marijuana is less dangerous than drinking alcohol in an interview that risked undermining national drugs laws.
Mr. Obama said that using the drug, which remains illegal under US federal law, was safer than drinking “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer”. He said that it was “important” for the controversial legalisation of marijuana by two American states to proceed, as it would end the unfair penalisation of a minority of smokers.
However the president, who has admitted experimenting with drugs in his youth, added: “I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
“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,” he told The New Yorker. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol”.
Mr. Obama’s remarks risked undermining the national drugs laws that are imposed by his justice department. Despite marijuana being legalised in Colorado and Washington by referendum, the drug remains a schedule 1 controlled substance – along with heroin and ecstasy – under federal law.
While the justice department said last year that it would not challenge the legalisation by both Colorado and Washington, the White House has stressed that Mr Obama does not favour amending the federal rules.
The president made his comments in a wide-ranging 17,000-word profile that surveyed the challenges facing his final three years in office after what is widely agreed to have been his worst 12 months.
He admitted the disclosure that US spies listened in on the telephone of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, felt “like a breach of trust and I can’t argue with her being aggravated about that”.
He conceded that the likelihood of the US reaching final treaties in its three major initiatives in the Middle East – on Iran’s nuclear programme, the dispute between Israel and Palestinians, and Syria was “less than fifty-fifty”.
“On the other hand,” he said, “in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilise it so it doesn’t roll back on us.”
Asked, after stepping back from intervening in Syria, if he were haunted by the horrors of the country’s bloody civil war, Mr Obama said: “I am haunted by what’s happened. I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war.”
Speaking amid sharp Republican criticism of his handling of post-war Iraq, Mr Obama suggested that the power wielded there by al-Qaeda – whose flags fly over the city of Fallujah – was overstated.
Just because a second-string school basketball team “puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” said Mr Obama, referring to the star player for the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team, in what his interviewer described as an “uncharacteristically flip analogy”.
The article disclosed that Mr Obama’s wife, Michelle, has already begun working on an autobiography for publication after the couple leave the White House. The president plans to write his own memoirs of his time in office, which are expected to fetch a record $20 million (£12 million) from a publisher.
It also explained that Malia, the couple’s older daughter, is “an aspiring filmmaker” and is a fan of the sexually-explicit HBO series Girls, of which her parents are said to have been “wary”.
After some of his loftier ambitions for transforming America were crushed by the partisan realities of Washington, Mr Obama repeatedly played down the ability of the US president to effect change.
“We’re part of a long-running story,” he said. “We just try to get our paragraph right.
“The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing,” he went on, before pausing and adding: “Not ‘probably’ – it’s definitely a good thing.”