In an interview with Vice News‘s Shane Smith earlier this week, President Obama admonished young people for choosing cannabis legalization as the number one most suggested topic of discussion with the president. He said cannabis “shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority… Let’s put it in perspective. Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.” (You can watch the Vice News interview below.)
On a recent episode of The View, hosts Whoopie Goldberg and Rosie Perez said the president’s critique was wrong.
Perez said Obama failed to give young people their due credit, noting that cannabis legalization will have beneficial effects on the economy as well as crime rates.
“I thought that he didn’t give a lot of young people enough credit in regards to their knowledge about the legalization around marijuana because it does include the economics,” she said.
“It also includes the crime in this country and the crime abroad. And it will decrease a lot. And I think that it’s a very important issue because if you look at the states that have legalized it, their economy is booming.”
Perez also noted that legalization has broader economic implications than many realize, and equated the issue to alcohol prohibition.
“It will create jobs, because it’s not just about selling weed, like, ‘Ooh, I got a joint, I got an ounce, you wanna buy?’ No. There are other businesses surrounding the legalization of marijuana,” she said. “It’s the same thing with prohibition with alcohol… I do agree with you that young people should be concerned with other issues, but that is also an important issue.”
Goldberg, an Academy Award-winner, said the priorities of young Vice readers point out the inaccuracies in marijuana’s current government classification as a Schedule I drug.
“I think young people are concerned about a lot of things, but this is something that they’re aware of that is being misrepresented because it’s a Schedule I drug…A Schedule I drug means there is no reason for it to exist, which is not true, because people have been using hemp and marijuana for centuries for all kinds of things,” she said.
The scheduling of substances in the U.S. is a presidential power, yet while Obama has admitted it is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and his Surgeon General has said it has medical uses, he has yet to take steps to reclassify marijuana.
“If you legalize it, it becomes something that grows an economy, as we’ve seen it do in other places,” said Goldberg. “So I think young people should be concerned about all of these things. But this is another way that the economy can be grown.”
As most young voters (the same voters responsible for Obama’s original election, by the way) are aware, cannabis legalization also has huge humanitarian impact as well. Poor communities of color have been unduly targeted by the War on Drugs for the last 40 years, a process described eloquently in attorney Michelle Alexander’s bestselling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Across the country black people especially, but all minority races, are unevenly targeted by law enforcement with marijuana arrests, raids and stings despite the fact that all races use marijuana at similar rates, as outlined in depth in this ACLU report.