Source: Washington Examiner – BY: Kelly Cohen March 17, 2015

Legalizing marijuana at the federal level is a real possibility, according to President Obama.

Based on some of the bipartisan agreements seen surrounding U.S. marijuana laws, should enough states decriminalize marijuana, doing so at the federal level would be the next step, Obama said in an interview with Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith.

 “We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side,” Obama said in the interview, released Monday. “At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.”

Currently, 23 states plus Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, Washington State and D.C.

Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Rand Paul — two Democrats and a Republican, respectively — introduced a bill last week that would decriminalize marijuana on a federal level. The bill would reclassify the drug from Schedule II to Schedule I, meaning the federal government would have to recognize its medicinal use as legal and not illegal.

“I’d separate out the issue of criminalization of marijuana from encouraging its use,” Obama said. “I think there’s no doubt that our criminal justice system, generally, is so heavily skewed towards cracking down on nonviolent drug offenders that it has not just had a terrible effect on many communities — particularly communities of color — rendering a lot of folks unemployable because they got felony records, disproportionate prison sentences. It costs a huge amount of money to states and a lot of states are figuring that out.”

Obama added he was “encouraged” to see not just liberal Democrats, “but also some very conservative Republicans recognize this doesn’t make sense — including the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.”

However, legalizing marijuana is not a cure-all solution, Obama warned.

“I think there is a legitimate concern about the overall effects this has on society, particularly vulnerable parts of our society,” the president said. “Substance abuse, generally —legal and illegal substances — is a problem. Locking somebody up for 20 years is probably not the best strategy, and that is something we have to rethink as a society as a whole.”

Once told that marijuana was what Vice readers wanted the president to address the most in the interview, Obama said that while he understands the interest in the topic, marijuana “shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority.”

Instead, young people should care about “climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace,” Obama said. Only then, “you should be thinking about marijuana.”

A majority of Americans continue to support legalizing the drug. An October Gallup poll shows 51 percent favor legalizing use of marijuana.