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Nightly News   |  January 20, 2014

Presidents past, present influence weed debate

From “Just say no!,” to “I did not inhale,” and Obama’s recent remarks on marijuana being no worse than alcohol, NBC News’ Chuck Todd take a look at presidential stances on pot.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in this case, washington state and colorado. it has been slowly trending that way in some places. and because it's been in the news, the "new yorker" magazine asked president obama about it during an interview, and his answer on it is making news. our report tonight from our chief white house correspondent, chuck todd .

>> reporter: legalization of marijuana in colorado and washington is sparking a national debate.

>> people like me who is a regular everyday mom probably will give it a try.

>> reporter: and now even the president has weighed in, it telling the "new yorker" magazine, i don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol. but the president is not exactly condoning its use, either. even though he's tried it. here's how he views it. as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes i smoked as a young person , up through a big chunk of my adult life. but as a father, the president has his limits. and i've told my daughters, i think it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy. but mr. obama's live and let live attitude is in stark contrast to past white house positions on the drug.

>> what you talking about, mrs. reagan?

>> reporter: in the '80s, nancy reagan appeared in a popular sitcom to boost her "just say no" campaign.

>> i'm concerned about drug abuse , especially among the young.

>> reporter: later that decade, marijuana use tore paid oed. by the early '90s, as baby boomers admitted to smoking a joint didn't necessarily snuff out one's political future.

>> i experimented with marijuana a time or two and didn't like it. and didn't inhale.

>> reporter: it's been a long journey. in 1969 , 84% of americans were against legalization of marijuana. today 58% are in favor. and the president may have just helped that number grow.

>> and the president says marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, that's going to affect a lot of people, could change history.

>> reporter: but general barry mccaffrey , who ran the clinton white house office of national drug control policy says legalization is a bad idea.

>> early onset exposure to marijuana, to ecstasy, to beer consumption, is a pathway to a lifetime of addiction.

>> reporter: the question now, how will the president's comments impact the debate? chuck todd , nbc news, washington.