Video: Bill Maher, Barack Obama Discuss Drug Reform

By McCarton Ackerman 11/08/16

The controversial talk show host grilled the president on matters of drug reform and marijuana legalization.

Video: Bill Maher, Barack Obama Discuss Drug Reform
Photovia Real Time With Bill Maher/YouTube

After years of trying, Bill Maher landed Barack Obama as a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher to talk about all things drugs.

The president appeared on the program this past weekend and the late-night host almost immediately moved into tough questioning on drug law reforms, particularly when it comes to marijuana. Maher, an admitted marijuana user who has advocated for legalization, cited the rising number of states that are considering either medical or recreational marijuana legalization on the November ballot.

“We’ve both made jokes about it, but it’s not funny to the people who get arrested, which is over half a million last year,” said Maher. "I feel like you had a checklist about, ‘Let’s get rid of a lot of the stupid stuff.’ … Isn’t it time the federal government caught up to progressive states like Arizona and North Dakota?"

Obama reiterated his stance that substance abuse and addiction should be viewed as a public health issue and not a criminal one. He also noted that if the current ballot initiatives on marijuana are successful, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) may not have a choice but to alter some of its drug policies.

“I don’t think that legalization is a panacea, but I think that we’re gonna have to have a more serious conversation about how we are treating marijuana and our drug laws generally,” said Obama. “Because if in fact it passes in all these states, about a fifth of the country is operating under one set of laws, and four-fifths in another. The Justice Department, the DEA, FBI — for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others … That is not gonna be tenable.”

However, the president also said there are bigger issues when it comes to U.S. drug reform. Obama argued that “it is indisputable that right now the biggest crisis we have is with opioids, many of which are legal and are ravaging entire communities all across the country.”

Some of Maher’s views on substances have been more controversial. Last month, he and Chelsea Handler suggested on his show that people who don’t try alcohol or drugs raise red flags when it comes to their character, unless they’re in recovery. Maher added that he “never trusts people” who refuse to smoke pot.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.