To his credit, former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy, who has long battled with substance abuse, spoke up in response to President Obama’s flippant and destructive comments on marijuana: “I think the president needs to speak to his NIH director in charge of drug abuse. . . .[She] would tell the president that, in fact, today’s modern, genetically modified marijuana, so it’s much higher THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] levels, far surpass the marijuana that the president acknowledges smoking when he was a young person.” Echoing the liberal dig at conservatives that they are at war with science, Kennedy adds, “He is wrong when he says that it isn’t very harmful, because the new marijuana is not the old marijuana. We need to have presidential decisions made based upon public health and the sound science that the federal government’s invested in.”

 Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy II speaks at a rally in Stockholm, Sweden, 06 April 2013, in support of the opposition group People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK). (EPA/FREDRIK PERSSON SWEDEN OUT) Former congressman Patrick J. Kennedy II speaks at a rally in Stockholm last April. (EPA)

Good for Kennedy. In a sense, he is giving the president a graceful way out of his comments by suggesting the president isn’t up on the latest concerning THC. In reality, of course, there has always been a significant difference between cigarettes and pot, but the president might do well to graciously grab the lifeline Kennedy threw.

The president’s comments equating pot to cigarettes and alcohol in a New Yorker interview may appeal to upscale liberal baby boomers, but his suggestion may have disastrous results for kids who don’t have strong parental supervision and/or are confronted with the temptations of drug use. In some sense, the president — who loves to rail at inequality — is playing to the rich and famous (his donor base) at the expense of vulnerable teens. It is both ironic and sad that the president simply doesn’t get this.

On the conservative side, a few commentators have pointed out that Obama’s libertarian attitude toward pot is at odds with the rest of his agenda. Apparently in the Obama universe, people can decide for themselves whether to smoke pot, but the government will tell them what sort of health care to have and what schools they must go to (instead of celebrating school choice). The Obama administration doesn’t trust consumers to figure out for themselves what financial institutions they want to frequent, nor is it shy about micromanaging farm dust. So why is the president so laissez faire about marijuana? Again, one can’t help but think that the authoritarian impulse in liberal statism is based on the notion that other people need to be told what to do.

The president isn’t very good at apologizing. (“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me.”) In the case of his comments on pot, maybe he could say that he is sorry people might think pot is harmless based on assurances they got from him. Then he could go talk to Kennedy, who from life experience understands how harmful it can be to take the president’s comments on pot to heart.