Bill Clinton: States should experiment with marijuana legalization

'This really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy,' former president says

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News
Former President Bill Clinton gestures during a televised conversation hosted by Bloomberg TV titled "A New Competitive Era: America in the World," on the final day of the annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative America, at the Sheraton Downtown in Denver, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. (Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)
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Former President Bill Clinton, who once famously said he smoked marijuana but "didn't inhale," says he thinks legalization should be for the states to decide — not the federal government.

"Look, I think there's a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing," Clinton said in an interview with NBC's David Gregory broadcast on Sunday's "Meet the Press."

"I think there are a lot of unresolved questions," Clinton continued. "This really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy, because nobody really knows where this is going. Are there adequate quality controls? There's pot and there's pot; what's in it? What's going to happen? There are all these questions."

States like Colorado — which in January was the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana — should be allowed to experiment with marijuana laws, he said.

"I think we should leave it to the states," Clinton said. "If the state wants to try it, they can. And then they'll be able to see what happens."

Clinton's comments were welcomed by pot advocates who say he's come a long way since he was in the White House.

"When Bill Clinton was president his administration tried to punish doctors just for discussing medical marijuana with their patients," Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell told Yahoo News. "Now he not only says that there's a lot of evidence to support medical marijuana, but he thinks states should be able to legalize marijuana outright without the feds standing in the way. Whereas this issue was once seen as a political third rail, there's no question it has now emerged into the mainstream."

Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton was questioned about her views on legalization.

“On recreational, states are the laboratories of democracy,” the former secretary of state said during a CNN “Town Hall” event. “I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”

On medical marijuana, Clinton said more evidence is needed to prove it works.

“At the risk of committing radical candor, I have to say I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes," she said. “I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet, although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances. But I do think we need more research, because we don't know how it interacts with other drugs."

In 1992, Bill Clinton, then a Democratic candidate for president, commented on his own use of pot during a campaign forum in New York.

"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two and didn’t like it,” Clinton said of his time as a student at Oxford in the late 1960s. “I didn’t inhale, and I didn’t try it again.”"

Late last year, Clinton was asked about this remark, which was widely ridiculed.

"I didn’t say I was holier than thou. I said I tried. I never denied that I used marijuana,” Clinton said. “I told the truth. I thought it was funny. And the only journalist who was there said I told the truth.”

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama made headlines in an interview in which he called marijuana a "bad habit" and "a vice" but said it was no more dangerous than alcohol.

“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," Obama told the New Yorker's David Remnick. "I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

The president said he believed that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

"It’s not something I encourage," Obama continued, "and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

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