Obama Finally Responds to Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington: Feds Won't Go After Users; No Word on Suppliers

"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?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    The White House is having a fish fry?

  • ||

    Damn you Caleb!!!

  • Caleb Turberville||

  • ||

    First.

    Feds wont go after users; no word on suppliers?

    That is the opposite of what he said.

  • wareagle||

    and he meant it both times. Seriously, why would any rational, thinking human being believe a damn word this guy says?

  • gaoxiaen||

    Becaus the comparison was Romney, a religious fanatic who wanted to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, a flip-fopper, a a spoiled brat who has never experienced financial difficulties from the time of his birth (borrow money from your parents, do you think he ever had to ask?. (and a Mormon, do you think his weltangshuaung has been changed by his charmed life?) nut case. I would have voted for Stalin before I voted for Romney?) Fuck the Republicans. They're facicsts. I'm registering Libertarian. The Republican Socicon social conservatives are dying off. Good bye to bad rubbish. The sooner they die the better.

  • ||

    Thank you for that totally relevant and poignant comment, having, as it does, absolutely nothing to do with either the post you responded to or the original piece. You managed the hat trick there.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "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.

    HOLY SHITE. The feds are going to start going after recreational users in states that have determined it's legal!

  • ||

    Exactly. Just not a top priority. Bigger fish to fry means suppliers.

    This is shaping up to an interesting battle.

  • SKR||

    and how do you catch big fish? why with little fish of course.

  • RBS||

    Maybe I haven't had enough caffeine yet but that statement by the Pres sounds like gibberish, particularly "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after."

  • anon||

    It needed more commas as a transcript to make sense.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    He's saying it wouldn't make sense to go after recreational users, but the DEA will do it anyway.

    What has this administration done that made sense anyhow?

  • Drake||

    He is simply forcing air through his throat and making random meaningless sounds.

  • R C Dean||

    I thought the argle-bargle about "not a priority" is exactly what he said before launching his jihad against medpot growers and distributors.

    I see no reason to believe the feds won't prosecute "mere" users. In fact, I think they are seriously considering making that their test case.

  • Number 2||

    This "not a top priority" BS is the same weasle language that was contained in AG Holder's October 2009 "directive" not the enforce federal marjiuana laws against medical marijuana participants, which turned out to be (1) not a directive at all, (2) not issued by Holder, (3) not a prohibition against enforcement, and (4) not in any way a hinderance to enforcement of federal marjiuana laws against medical marijuana participants.

  • anon||

    It puts the alt-text on the picture or it gets the hose.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    PUT THE ALT-TEXT IN THE F*&^ING BASKET!

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    How about

    "That brick I brought back from Hawaii was this big. We went through it in my first week at Columbia."

  • anon||

    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 10TH FUCKING AMENDMENT YOU GODDAMN COCKSUCKER

    Now GET OFF MY LAWN!

  • anon||

    Of course, recognizing such might jeopardize the power of the almighty commerce clause, so fuck me.

  • T o n y||

    The 10th Amendment doesn't, and never has, negate the Supremacy Clause.

  • Butler||

    Actually it does negate the supremacy clause to the extent that it states that certain rights are reserved to the states. That is to say, there are some spheres where the federal government has no right to act and certainly not a right to act in contravention of the will of the states. To be sure, the Supreme Court has interpreted that truth essentially out of existence, but to state that the 10th Amendment "doesn't, and never has" negated the Supremacy clause is just wrong.

  • Calidissident||

    The Supremacy Clause only states that the Constitution and laws IN ACCORDANCE with it are the supreme laws of the land. You're begging the question. Nobody would have agreed to a Constitution that essentially said "Whatever the fuck the Feds decide to do, even if it's not authorized by this document, is cool"

  • gaoxiaen||

    Free the heads, jail the feds, Theyre all war criminals and obeying illegal orders is a crime.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I feel that "Dug War' cimes comitted by the police are all prosecutable and entail prison time for all "Drug Warriors" Ignorance of the law is no excuse. This applies to the US Constitution.

  • ||

    This is not your lawn. You didnt build it.

    /captain zero

  • anon||

    Oh you dirty whore.

  • DK||

    Obama is either willfully ignorant or he's an anachronism - an early 20th century moron where the average IQ was 67.

  • DJF||

    But they will define as major drug dealers anyone caught with a marijuana seed. After all if you can grow one plant, then you can grow a thousand, its a slippery slope.

  • Bee Tagger||

    "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,"

    Governments don't typically give up power. They just temporarily shift enforcement and priority around.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    "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."

    Since when has this dude ever made mention of the notion of state autonomy?

  • ||

    I used to rail against the fascist shitstain to his supporters, pointing out all the things he did that give away who he really is. I got nowhere. They would deny, delude themselves, rationalize it away. They still swoon over him. It truly is a cult of personality.

    Now I just watch in amazement. Clearly nothing is beyond the pale for this guy.

  • anon||

    In my mind's eye, it looks similar to how I imagine history's other dictators coming to power.

  • ||

    'similar' is not the word I would use.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Just like Bush II.

  • ||

    Yeah, Bush certainly had a cult of personality. That's why he spent most of his presidency with an approval rating in the 30's and became fashionable to hate by every person who considered themselves civilized or cultured in both America and abroad.

    Which do you prefer, HURRRRR or DURRRRRR?

  • anon||

    "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.

    Is Obama talking about going after the Federal Government? When did this 180 on government happen?

  • John||

    I don't know that the feds have ever gone after users other than the odd throw away charge in a bigger case. You show me a case where the feds brought charges for use alone, because I haven't ever seen one.

    So Obama's promise that he won't go after users is meaningless talking points for his troll supporters to mouth. The issue is will he go after the clinics. And I would be stunned if he didn't. Drug laws are about control and Obama loves control and with Obama always assume the worst.

  • ||

    "Obama's promise that he won't go after users..."

    That is not what he said.

    "...with Obama always assume the worst."

    I see you are a fast learner. The double tap from the drones must have been the last straw....ok not a straw, more like a few thousand board feet of oak.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    whether it will raid, close down, and prosecute state-licensed commercial growers and retailers.

    Based on the historical evidence, yes. With the eager assistance of local and state law enforcement. And in federal court, any mention of state laws will be strictly prohibited.

  • sarcasmic||

    "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 with lots of accumulated wealth to steal, there is no doubt we need to go after those folks hard," said Obama.

    ftfy yw

  • John||

    Nothing says "drug kingpin" like some old hippie running a medical marijuana clinic.

  • sarcasmic||

    He owns a rifle and a shotgun and sells drugs. Obviously he is a dangerous terrorist who should be imprisoned for life.

  • deified||

    "I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws.

    Fool, please. DOMA? DREAM ACT? Ogden memo? You enforce laws when you feel like it. And when not, you don't.

  • sarcasmic||

    He doesn't even attempt to hide the hypocrisy. It wouldn't surprise me if he said something like "Well we're not going to enforce this law because it is impractical, but we have no choice but to enforce that law because the law is the law."

  • ||

    I really think the guy is delusional. Batshit crazy.

    Either only the crazy seek total power, or total power makes you crazy. I havent decided. Probably both.

    I would make a list of all the nutbags that fall into that catagory, but it would take all day. Just add captain zero to the list I guess.

  • sarcasmic||

    They say power corrupts, but that's a cop out. I say that the corrupt are attracted to power.

  • SKR||

    "It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it... anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."
    -Douglas Adams

  • wareagle||

    He doesn't even attempt to hide the hypocrisy.

    Why would he? The only folks who call him out on are the odd Fox talking head and a couple of radio guys, easily dismissed by the obedient left as racist cranks who refuse to accept the election outcome.

  • R C Dean||

    You enforce laws when you feel like it.

    See, also, Corzine.

    And for that matter the entire banking industry, which engaged in a massive campaign of fraud and perjury in the mortgage market.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    You can't argue with him. He knows what he's talking about.

    He's a Constitutional Scholar, you know.

  • ||

    finally, the voice of reason!

  • ||

    "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?"

    So much about Obama's ideology is wrapped up in this nice little paragraph. If Obama was worried about carrying out laws (like, I don't know, getting Congressional approval before starting wars) things would be a lot different. And "how do you reconcile a federal law with a state law?" There's this thing that comes a little ways after the Commerce Clause but just before the 16th Amendment called "The Tenth Amendment" that says IT'S NOT YOUR GODDAMN PROBLEM ANYMORE.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Obama said.

    He doesn't seem to have the same problem when it comes to immigration.

  • Rich||

  • ||

    I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws.

    How convenient that he brings that up now, and not, say, when he authored all those executive orders.

  • Thomas O.||

    Maybe he's "evolving" on this issue as well. Wishful thinking on my part, anyway.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Now that he no longer has to run for reelection, evolutionary stasis will set in.

  • ||

    Wow. Way to have some balls there. Coming out and staking out a "position" only a month and a half after these ballot questions were won and there being at least two stories every day in the news about legal pot.

  • Lyle||

    Yeah, he's a little bit of a wussy. And his position just muddies the water even more for Colorado and Washington.

  • Doctor Whom||

    I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws.

    Including that law that gives the executive branch the power to add drugs to or remove drugs from the schedules?

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    How much you want a bet that AG Holder is not invited to the fish fry.

    Holder holds something over Obama's head and he will do as he pleases.

  • Lyle||

    So what's the U.S. government's response to Colorado and Washington? How does this statement clarify the law?

  • Skyhawk||

    We'll have to wait a few days, until the polls are in and the media spins his answer. Then, we'll get his statement that starts with "Let me be clear..." and then something vastly different from what he originally said will ensue.

  • Robert||

    What makes anyone think the feds could get a conviction? The jurors are bound to know there are legal pot sales in their state. The defense need never mention the state law. Testimony on the evidence will make it clear that they were operating a state-authorized business.

    Mr. SMITH, where were you at the time you were alleged to have conveyed this material to Mr. Warty?

    SMITH: I was at Steven's Marijuana Emporium on Floogle St., where I was employed as a peace officer and clerk.

    So they'll never prosecute cases criminally. What they could do, however, would be to seize assets on suspicion, get injunctions, whatever they need to to keep these issues away from a jury. They'll padlock the door and make the owners take action, legal or illegal, to reopen the business. They'll make them take bolt cutters to the padlock, and then prosecute for breaking and entering, and seek to suppress all evidence of what the premises were. Etc.

  • Calidissident||

    NDAA could come in handy if they so desired

  • seguin||

    Regulatory capture. The Sinaloa cartel doesn't want competitors.

  • ||

    The real question is whether they'll allow financial institutions to invest.

  • eHiatt||

    If the Feds go after suppliers, won't we end up with a worse situation than we have now? The increase in demand could make "crime" go up since people will have to resort to the the black market. The government can then claim that legalization increases crime.

    That's run-of-the-mill as far as statistics abuse goes so I may as well anticipate any shenanigans prior to their official Federal endorsement

    I'm using cannabis illegally to treat issues related to autism. It's given me my life back, but I'm willing to go to jail if Obama resigns and puts himself in jail with me given his history of “drug abuse”.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "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?"

    Criminal penalties aren't for people Obama likes.

  • mrvco||

    This is sounding an awful like how BO came out on Gay Marriage... Now I'm just waiting for Biden to chime in on the topic.

  • NihilistZerO||

    I seriously dislike this president. Never thought anybody could irk me more than Bush, but somehow he does. Can't imagine how hard the next guy is going to suck.

  • nikea||

    The president said he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to examine the http://www.cheapbeatsbydreonau.com/ legal questions surrounding conflicting state and federal laws on drugs.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Asking the gun-runner-in chief? That's funny.

  • ||

    Congratulations on failing the Turing test.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "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,"

    Does not mean that Obama said: Feds Won't Go After Users; No Word on Suppliers.

    He's left himself loopholes you could drive a truck through. He didn't say "we won't". He didn't say "I won't". He said "it would make sense". And since when does anyone suppose that the government will restrain itself from things that don't make sense?

    Of course, he didn't even say "it wouldn't make sense for us to do that", he said "it wouldn't make sense for us to make that a top priority". So yeah, they'll do it, but it won't be "top priority".

    Basically, no change at all. The feds feel free to do whatever they want, regardless of what voters have said.

  • uythsb||

    Merry Christmas

  • zhonga||

    Whoever was behind the photos and video was no amateur, U.S. authorities concluded. They made no mistakes, leading investigators to conclude it http://www.cheapbeatsbydretradeau.com/ had to be a professional intelligence service like Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement