On November 6, voters in Washington and Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana and granted their respective state governments the power to regulate and tax sales of the drug. It is now November 19, and President Obama has yet to acknowledge that a massive shift in drug policy happened on the same day he was reelected.
At Obama's first post-election press conference, reporters declined to ask a single question about marijuana. Executive branch agencies have issued non-responses. The D.C. offices of the DEA and the Justice Department said their responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act "remains unchanged." Seattle DEA Agent Jodie Underwood told Reuters, "The state law is not going to change how the DEA operates."
While the responsiblity for changing America's drug laws belongs to Congress, Obama has a role in that process. Without Holder and Obama, after all, the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine would have never been reduced.
Furthermore, members of Congress--Republicans and Democrats both--have already responded to the ballot initiatives, by introducing legislation to exempt Colorado and Washington from the Controlled Substances Act, and by asking the Department of Justice, the DEA, and the White House to respect the will of Colorado and Washington voters.
This isn't going away. Legislators in Rhode Island and Maine--states that already have medical marijuana--are introducing legalization bills in 2013. The 2014 election will likely see more marijuana-related ballot initiatives.
If a more nuanced response is in the works, Obama should not only say so, he should be the one to deliver it. And because it's never too late to lead from behind, we'll be counting the days until he decides to do so.