Obama Says Pot Legalization Shouldn't Be Young People's 'Biggest Priority'

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President Barack Obama warned young Americans not to focus on legalizing pot at the expense of more important issues like war and peace, climate change and the economy.

"It shouldn't be young people's biggest priority,” Obama said in an interview with Vice News’ Shane Smith, who said legalization of marijuana would be a vital part of the president’s legacy.

"So let’s put it in perspective, young people, I understand this is important to you but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana,” Obama said in the interview, which aired on Monday.

The District of Columbia and four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Meanwhile, 23 and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical use.

The president — who has said he supports decriminalizing but not legalizing marijuana — said the issue of decriminalization should be seen as separate from flaws in the justice system that crack down on non-violent drug offenders, particularly in communities of color.

“But I always say, folks ... legalization or decriminalization is not a panacea — do you feel the same way about meth? Do we feel the same way about coke, how about crack, how about heroin?” he said. “There is ... concern about the overall effects this has on society and particularly vulnerable parts of our society.”

Obama also discussed a letter from Senate Republicans to the Tehran government in which 47 politicians suggested they would undo any nuclear agreement signed by him.

The president told Smith he was "embarrassed" for the senators, "because that's not how America does business."

"For them to address a letter to the Ayatollah, the supreme leader of Iran who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is don't deal with our president....that's close to unprecedented."

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— F. Brinley Bruton

Reuters contributed to this report.

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