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Interview with Jake Tapper of CNN's "New Day"

January 31, 2014

TAPPER: Another big issue in this country right now has to do with the legalization of marijuana. You gave an interview to the New Yorker's David Remnick and you said that you thought smoking pot was a bad habit, but you didn't think it was any worse for a person than drinking. Now, that contradicts the official Obama administration policy, both on the website of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and also the fact that marijuana is considered a schedule-one narcotic, along with heroin and ecstasy. Now, do you think you were maybe talking just a little too casually about it with Remnick in the New Yorker, or are you considering not making marijuana a schedule-one narcotic?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, what is and isn't a schedule-one narcotic is a job for Congress. It's not --

TAPPER: I think it's the DEA that decides that.

THE PRESIDENT: It's not something by ourselves that we start changing. No, there are laws under-girding those determinations.

TAPPER: Would you support that move?

THE PRESIDENT: But the broader point, I stand by my belief, based I think on the scientific evidence, that marijuana for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is, and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge. But as I said in the interview, my concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individuals users that have been applied unevenly and, in some cases, with a racial disparity. I think that is a problem.

Over the long term, what I believe is if we can deal with some of the criminal penalty issues, then we can really tackle what is a problem, not just for marijuana but also alcohol, also cigarettes, also harder drugs, and that is try to make sure that our kids don't get -- don't get into these habits in the first place. And you know, the incarceration model that we've taken, particularly around marijuana, does not seem to have produced the kinds of results that we've said.

But I do offer a cautionary note, and I said this in the interview. Those who think legalization is a panacea, I think they have to ask themselves some tough questions, too, because if we start having a situation where big corporations with a lot of resources and distribution of marketing arms are suddenly going out there peddling marijuana then the levels of abuse that make take place --

TAPPER: Are going to be higher.

THE PRESIDENT: Are going to be higher.

TAPPER: When your Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper, testified before Congress and said -- before the Snowden leaks -- that there was no mass surveillance going on, a lot of Democrats in the Senate think that he was not honest. He said later that it was the least untruthful answer he could give. I know that you have faith in Clapper. I know that you believe that these programs protect the American people. But I can't believe that you weren't disappointed by his answer because "least untruthful" is not a phrase I remember hearing on the campaign trail.

THE PRESIDENT: The -- I think that Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded. His concern was that he had a classified program that he couldn't talk about and he was at an open hearing in which he was asked, he was prompted, to disclose a program. And so he felt that he was caught between a rock and a hard place.

TAPPER: So you understand what he did?

THE PRESIDENT: Now, subsequently, I think he's acknowledged that he could've handled it better. He's spoken to Mr. Wyden personally.

I think the broader point is that everybody that I've dealt with in our intelligence community is really working hard to try to do a very tough job; protect us when there are constant threat streams coming at us, but doing so in a way that's consistent with the law and consistent with our Constitution, consistent with our privacy rights.

I am actually confident that we can continue to have the best intelligence service in the world, but win back the confidence of both the American people as well as folks overseas, but it's going to take some time. It's going to take some work, partly because the technology has just moved so quickly that the discussions that need to be had didn't happen fast enough, didn't happen on the front end. And you know, I think that we have the opportunity now to move forward in a way that is going to make a difference.

TAPPER: A lot of members of Congress, and not just like the fringe ones, the ones who actually are serious lawmakers, have said to CNN that they would not let their family members go to Sochi, that they are not confident that it will be safe. You see all the intelligence. I know that you are not going. I know Michelle and Sasha and Malia are not going. But if close friends of yours or close friends of the girls said, hey, we're thinking about going, what would you tell them?

THE PRESIDENT: I'd tell them that I believe that Sochi is safe and that there are always some risks in these large international gatherings. I'm always going to feel even better if it's inside the United States because then we have full control over what happens, but the Russian authorities understand the stakes here. They understand that there are potential threats that are out there. And we are coordinating with them. We've looked at their plans. I think we have a good sense of the security that they're putting in place to protect not only the athletes themselves but also visitors there.

So what I would say is that if you want to go to the Olympics, you should go to the Olympics. And you know, we're not discouraging in any way Americans participating in what is just always an amazing, wonderful event. In these large settings like this, there are always some risks involved and I don't want to completely discount those. But as we've seen here in the United States, you know, the Boston Marathon, I mean, there were some risks if you have lone-wolfs or small cells of folks who are trying to do some damage.

TAPPER: Thank you for your time, sir.


TAPPER: I really appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Appreciate it.

Related Images

Barack Obama, Interview with Jake Tapper of CNN's "New Day" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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