|President Obama: “It does not make sense from a prioritizing point of view” to go after marijuana in states where it’s now legal
President Barack Obama pledged on Friday that he will not go after Washington state and Colorado for legalizing marijuana.
Obama was asked — in a Barbara Walters interview airing Friday on ABC — whether he supports making marijuana legal, reported The Associated Press. “I wouldn’t go that far,” the President said.
But Obama said he wouldn’t press the issue by going after recreational users in states where voters legalized marijuana in the November elections. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he said.
“It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view,” the President said, to focus on pot use on states where it is now legal.
“This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law,” Obama said. “I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about, How do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal?”
“Four things stand out in ABC’s press release about the president’s comments,” wrote Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadelmann in The Huffington Post. “The first is that he responded in a serious and substantive tone, which contrasted with the jokingly dismissive ways in which he answered questions about marijuana legalization just a few years ago. The ballot initiative victories in Colorado and Washington gave him no choice this time. Marijuana legalization is now a political reality.”
|Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance: “Voters in Washington and Colorado did more than just make history last month by voting to end their states’ marijuana prohibition laws … They performed a national service”
“Voters in Washington and Colorado did more than just make history last month by voting to end their states’ marijuana prohibition laws and attempt instead to regulate marijuana as a legal commodity,” Nadelmann wrote. “They performed a national service by catapulting the national conversation about marijuana policy to a new level of urgency and political significance.
“President Obama is right about the need for a conversation,” Nadelmann wrote. “He needs to ensure that federal officials engage in good faith and with due deference to the fiscal, moral and public safety and health arguments in favor of legally regulating marijuana rather than persisting with a costly and ineffective prohibitionist policy.”
As for Obama’s “bigger fish to fry” comment, Nadelmann said that was “not news.”
“Federal law enforcement officials have never prioritized going after users of marijuana,” Nadelmann wrote. “Obama has said much the same regarding medical consumers of marijuana, but that begs the question of whether consumers will be able to make their purchases from legal or only illegal sources.”
Marijuana, which is now more-or-less legal for adults in two states and is legal for medicinal use in 18 (including the same two, Washington and Colorado, where it’s legal for all adults) remains illegal for any purpose under federal law. Under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is considered a dangerous drug, right alongside heroin.
Nevertheless, the federal government sends 300 joints a month to the four remaining patients in the Compassionate Investigative New Drug program, a holdover from the early 1980s.
Marijuana officially became legal in Washington state on December 6, and in Colorado on December 10.
Under Washington state’s law, adults still aren’t allowed to grow or sell their own, and may possess up to one ounce. No marijuana stores will open in Washington for at least another year. Under Colorado’s law, adults may grow up to six plants, but it may be even longer before stores open.
Both states already have a working system of medicinal cannabis distribution through safe access points and patient collectives.