Americans have gone from a White House with a "just say no" attitude toward illegal drugs to one recommending, in effect, "just say maybe."
"Just say no," the slogan coined by former first lady Nancy Reagan during the 1980s, was a firm reaction to the dangers of illegal drugs, including marijuana.
Now, President Barack Obama - the nation's chief law enforcement officer, self-appointed guardian of our health and role model for many young people - says "yes" is not an unacceptable reaction to marijuana.
During a published interview, Obama had this to say about marijuana: "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. I don't think it's more dangerous than alcohol." He added he has told his daughters "I think it's a bad idea, a waste of time."
Obama's comments represent a drastic and distressing change. Despite federal laws making possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana a crime, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said they will not interfere with marijuana use by residents of Colorado and Washington, states where recreational consumption of the drug no longer is illegal.
Elsewhere in the White House, where settled science is not just a slogan, things are different.
"Confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of 'medical' marijuana and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless," notes the website of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Marijuana "poses significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly the young."
Incredible as it may seem, Obama in his interview downplayed the danger of marijuana as a gateway drug to other, more dangerous substances even while recognizing the peril. He asked rhetorically: "If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, 'well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka,' are we open to that?"
Many young people experiment with cigarettes and alcohol but stop short of trying marijuana because adults they trust have warned them it involves different, in some ways more severe, dangers.
Now the president of the United States says not to worry, that as far as being hazardous, marijuana is about the same as cigarettes and booze.
Obama should knows better.