President Barack Obama commented today on new state laws that legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington saying the U.S. won’t pursue pot users there.
Following the November votes in those states, the Justice Department reiterated that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, worrying legalization advocates.
Obama had been vague on what the federal government’s specific response would be.
In an interview with Barbara Walters Friday, however, he said: “It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view” to focus on drug use where it is now legal.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” the newly-reelected president added.
Marijuana activists were relieved at Obama’s comments, but still had many questions.
They said even if individual users aren’t charged, marijuana producers and sellers could be subject to prosecution, civil forfeiture and other legal roadblocks.
Obama also didn’t specifically address how the U.S. government would respond to state officials in Washington and Colorado and their efforts to implement this.
Those officials are now tasked with coming up with regulations for legal pot sales.
Obama simply told Walters that “recreational users” are not a “top priority.”
“There’s some signal of hope,” Alison Holcomb, who led Washington’s legalization drive, said. “I think it’s correct that we ultimately we need a legislative resolution.”
But Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority said Obama’s comment isn’t anything new, and he could use executive power to reclassify marijuana as a legal drug.
In recent years, federal prosecutors haven’t targeted users in the 18 states and Washington, D.C. that allow people to use marijuana for medical reasons.
However, agents have cracked down on many dispensaries in some of those states.
In any event, thanks to statewide ballot measures, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is now legal for adults over 21 in both Washington and Colorado.
Washington’s Liquor Control Board, which has been regulating alcohol for 78 years, now has a year to adopt rules for the fledgling pot industry.
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