1. Mid 1970s: The Choom Gang Years
Growing up in Hawaii, Barack Obama belonged to a group of friends who were known as the “Choom Gang.” Choom is a verb which means “to smoke marijuana.” According to David Maraniss’ book Barack Obama: The Story, the young Obama popularized a smoking trend known as “TA” (short for “total absorption”) and “roof hits,” where the group would smoke with all the car windows rolled up to not let any smoke escape. Obama was also known to cut into other people’s turn when a joint was being passed around and yelling “interception.”
2. 2004: “I think the War on Drugs has been an utter failure…. but I’m not somebody who believes in the legalization of marijuana.”
Speaking to students at Northwestern University when running for Senate in 2004, then-State Senator Obama said: “I think the War on Drugs has been an utter failure. I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws. But I’m not somebody who believes in the legalization of marijuana. I do believe we need to rethink how we’re operating in the drug wars – we’re not doing a good job.”
3. 2006: “I inhaled frequently…that was the point.”
At a event for magazine editors in 2006, the then-Senator drew a contrast between him and his future presidential primary rival Hillary Clinton by admitting he inhaled frequently as a kid.
4. 2007: “My attitude is if the science and doctors suggest that the best palliative care, the best way to relief pain and suffering is through medical marijuana, then that’s something I’m open to…”
Speaking in Iowa in 2007, Obama said he would support medical marijuana if doctor’s suggested it was the best care, but had concerns about folks growing their own calling it a “slippery slope.”
“My attitude is if the science and doctors suggest that the best palliative care, the best way to relief pain and suffering is through medical marijuana, then that’s something I’m open to and because there’s no difference between that and morphine when it comes to just giving people relief from pain. But I want to do it under strict guidelines. I want to make sure that it is prescribed in the same way that pain killer or other palliative drugs would be prescribed. I’m concerned about folks just kinda growing their own and saying it’s for medical purposes because that’s kind of a slippery slope their.”
5. 2007: “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good use of our resources.”
Speaking at an event in August 2007 in Nashua, New Hampshire Obama told a man who used medical marijuana he “would not have” the Justice Department go after medical marijuana users.
6. 2008: “When it comes to medical marijuana, I have more of a practical view than anything else….I think there are legitimate concerns in not wanting to allow people to grow their own or start setting up mom and pop shops…”
In a March 2008 interview with Gary Nelson, the Mail Tribune editorial page editor, Obama said he took a “practical view” on prescribing medial marijuana. Obama added that he saw issues with “mom and pop shops” selling marijuana and people growing their own supply.
“When it comes to medical marijuana, I have more of a practical view than anything else. My attitude is that if it’s an issue of doctors prescribing medical marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma or as a cancer treatment, I think that should be appropriate because there really is no difference between that and a doctor prescribing morphine or anything else. I think there are legitimate concerns in not wanting to allow people to grow their own or start setting up mom and pop shops because at that point it becomes fairly difficult to regulate.
I’m not familiar with all the details of the initiative that was passed [in Oregon] and what safeguards there were in place, but I think the basic concept that using medical marijuana in the same way, with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that’s entirely appropriate.
I would not punish doctors if it’s prescribed in a way that is appropriate. That may require some changes in federal law. I will tell you that…the likelihood of that being real high on my list is not likely. What I’m not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue simply because I want folks to be investigating violent crimes and potential terrorism. We’ve got a lot of things for our law enforcement officers to deal with.”
7. 2009: “There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation….the answer is no…”
Speaking at a town hall as president in 2009, Obama joked about a popular online question that asked about the possibility of legalizing marijuana to help improve the economy. He answered, “no.”
“There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation…and I don’t know what this says about the online audience….but…this was a fairly popular question. We want to make sure it’s answered. The answer is no, I don’t think that’s a good strategy to grow out economy.”
8. 2011: “I am not in favor of legalization. I am a strong believer that we need to think more about drugs as a public health problem.”
9. 2012: “It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.”
Speaking with ABC’s Barbara Walters in December of 2012 the president said it didn’t make sense to prosecute people for recreational drug use in states that it is legal. The president said it would be a waste of federal resources.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.
When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.”
10. 2014: “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
President Obama said in a widely-publicized interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick on Sunday that he doesn’t believe smoking marijuana is more dangerous than drinking alcohol, going as far to suggest it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
“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. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama said.
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot and poor kids do and African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor, and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties,” Obama added. “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”