"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," President Obama tells Barbara Walters in an ABC interview that airs tonight. "We've got bigger fish to fry."
Do those "bigger fish" include licensed growers and suppliers of state-legal marijuana? Because that's the real issue here, as Jacob Sullum explained yesterday:
The federal government, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the country's marijuana arrests, almost never handles cases involving such small quantities and does not have the resources to do so in any significant way. The real question is not whether the DEA will start busting newly legal pot smokers (even those who grow their own, as permitted in Colorado) but whether it will raid, close down, and prosecute state-licensed commercial growers and retailers.
Alas, Obama doesn't say whether he'll continue to go after licensed and regulated suppliers. More from his interview with Walters:
Obama told Walters he does not – "at this point" – support widespread legalization of marijuana. But he cited shifting public opinion and limited government resources as reasons to find a middle ground on punishing use of the drug.
"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?"
The president said he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to examine the legal questions surrounding conflicting state and federal laws on drugs.
"There are a number of issues that have to be considered, among them the impact that drug usage has on young people, [and] we have treaty obligations with nations outside the United States," Holder said Wednesday of the review underway.
"When you're talking about drug kingpins, folks involved in violence, people who are peddling hard drugs to our kids and our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt we need to go after those folks hard," said Obama.
"It makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally," he said. "There's more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side."
My favorite section:
As a politician, Obama has always opposed legalizing marijuana and downplayed his personal history with the substance.
"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," Obama told Walters. "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society.
I wonder if Obama thinks the guy who sold him pot in high school--and who he thanked in his yearbook--should have gone to prison?