August 21st, 2013
02:34 PM ET
11 months ago

No change in marijuana laws coming, White House says

(CNN) – President Barack Obama isn't looking to change current federal laws dictating the classification of marijuana, his spokesman explained Wednesday.

Josh Earnest, the deputy press secretary, said Obama "does not, at this point, advocate a change in the law" that places marijuana in the same class of drugs as heroin, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms, and which deems cannabis to have no medical use.

Responding to a question from CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin, Earnest described the Obama administration's position on marijuana as mainly focused on prosecuting drug traffickers rather than individual users.

"The administration's position on this has been clear and consistent for some time now," he said. "While the prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority, the president and the administration believe that the targeting of individual marijuana users, especially those with serious illnesses and their caregivers, is not the best allocation of federal law enforcement resources."

A day earlier, Earnest said he couldn't say whether or not the president's personal views on medical marijuana had changed as he had not seen a column and documentary written by CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which detailed Gupta's own shift on the issue.

Obama considered naming Gupta as surgeon general in 2009, but the neurosurgeon later said he withdrew his name so he could maintain his surgical career and continue spending time with his family.

Gupta's online essay on marijuana, published August 9, was titled "Why I changed my mind on weed." In it, he described changing his own stance on medical marijuana after researching the topic for his CNN documentary "Weed."

He also apologized for what he said was his misguided previous stance.

"I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now," Gupta wrote. "I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis."

Obama last weighed in on the use of marijuana after two states – Washington and Colorado – legalized the recreational use of the drug.

"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Obama told Barbara Walters of ABC News. "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?"

Supporters of medical marijuana have largely been disappointed in the Obama administration's record on the issue. While many were hopeful Obama would discontinue Bush-era crackdowns on dispensaries in states allowing the medical use of cannabis, those raids have ramped up since 2011. Users of medical marijuana, however, have mostly been left alone by the federal government.


Filed under: drug trafficking • President Obama
soundoff (158 Responses)
  1. TLORop

    "the president and the administration believe that the targeting of individual marijuana users, especially those with serious illnesses and their caregivers, is not the best allocation of federal law enforcement resources."Josh Earnest, deputy press secretary

    Why is it then that Feds are raiding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries?

    August 21, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  2. mass_opiate_or_opiate_of_masses?

    So Nixon started the DEA and the drug shcedules and THAT is the guy you want to trust your policy too?

    August 21, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. Aletheya

    The federal government will not lead on this. More likely, what is going to happen will be similar to what happened with Prohibition. The laws remain on the books, but increasingly, as more states legalize or permit medical marijuana, judges will decline to impose serious penalties, prosecutors will decline to prosecute since they know they can't get a meaningful conviction, those arrested will be allowed to plea down to minor offenses, and the law will simply fall into disuse. Eventually, Congress will recognize this fact by changing the law. It will take many years yet, but eventually the law will reflect reality. Don't look to the executive branch to lead – their job is enforcement, not lawmaking.

    August 21, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. sheesh

    Medical users are supposed to grow their own so the black market does not get funded for medicinal users drug needs.
    If the government would actually lose money on busting people it would change. But as it is they steal away a dealers real property,bank accounts, stocks/bonds ect,plus get paid for the imprisonment of the dealer. The actual selling of it is illegal period and thats for everyone. people are mostly not informed on this. It is good that at least medical users can have a better life and not be hassled for their medicine.

    August 21, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. Richard Cranium

    What a joke this administration is. A bad, bad joke.

    August 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  6. allenwoll

    Nothing practical can be done until a means to reliably establish MJ intoxication (or the absence thereof) in the field can be devised. . Otherwise, the slightest presence of MJ in your blood will set you up for a DUI conviction and endless civil litigation.

    August 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  7. david

    What a SHAM! MARIJUANA CAN CHANGE AND SAVE PEOPLES LIVES AS A MEDICINAL PRODUCT. Marijuana as a recreational drug still has some strong arguments (ie. it is not good for our health on a recreational basis (nor are any other legal drugs Tobacco and alcohol which are much worse) and there is a true concern for those under the age of 25 that up to this age can still have a grave effect generally on those already preconditioned with mental illness as it can induce psychosis) SO under 25 no go but over it really is not that bad. On a Medicinal base there is no argument IT HELPS it is PURELY BUSINESS RESTRICTING IT (hemp vs chemicals, bayer vs marijuana, war on drugs spending vs legalization) THE TRUTH IS IT IS ALL ABOUT MONEY

    August 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  8. Mancee Grayce

    Arrrgh. I admit to being duped; I voted for BO the first time, and now I regret it more than ever!. I'm going home to my BO voodoo doll to poke needles into it's vapid eyes.

    August 21, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  9. Paul

    " The "White House", aka the Obama Administration once again fails miserably at leadership when it comes to "human rights" issues. Literally hundreds of thousands of human beings are in prison today due to the absurd and inhuman drug laws which benefit no one but the "for profit" private prison system!

    What a pathetic, weak stance on an issue that should be governed by science and not false morality – politics anyone?

    August 21, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  10. MickeyOregon

    Hahahahaha. How dare Obama say "I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws." He certainly doesn't believe this at all.

    August 21, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  11. TomGI

    "President Barack Obama isn't looking to change current federal laws..."

    Is anyone really surprised by this statement?

    August 21, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  12. Kyle

    Obama really is disappointing on this issue. This is one that I thought he and I would be on the same page with. Isn't he suppose to be a liberal? He sure doesn't act like one. Not just on Pot, on business too. BTW, Pot could be a great business. Just saying.

    August 21, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  13. Nookster

    Well Obama got me. I believed he would do the right thing and voted for him twice. The joke is on me and everyone else who thought he would at the very least change marijuana's classification and leave medical marijuana alone. Instead he actually got worse his second term . The next candidate will have to absolutely put it in writing before they get my vote. Lets not let another corporate democrat con us again.

    August 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. Hopeless Fool

    The Feds believe Tobacco & Alcohol are OK to be legal but not pot. Looks like they support pot use after all.

    August 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  15. Saboth

    Of course not. There's a lot of corporations and government agencies making huge profits off of the farce known as the "War on Drugs". We are talking trillions at stake for defense contractors, privatized prisons, big Pharma, police, DEA, Homeland Security, etc. Locking away Americans for recreational drug use is a BIG money industry. It's disgraceful. We have 5% of the world's total population, but 25% of the world's prisoners. We find more reasons to lock away our citizens than any other country on Earth, and that includes regimes like Iran, North Korea, China, etc.

    August 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  16. kerfluffle

    @Hogarth

    We are a teleological paradox.

    So, be good to yourself and others. Suffer no fools gladly. Love and care without prejudice, but not beyond your means.

    And don't take any guff.

    August 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  17. Barry O'Bam-bam

    If one of his kids needed the relief only cannabis could provide he'd be singing another tune entirely.

    August 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  18. Nina

    It is beyond ridiculous that marijuana is lumped with heroin as a Class 1 drug. For one thing, there are medical uses for marijuana, not for heroin. I'm very disappointed the administration has not availed itself of the many studies related to this fact. Very disappointed. So many people could use this drug as part of their medical therapy. Weed is not heroin!

    August 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  19. Guester

    Maybe I'm wrong on this but since when does the Executive branch make the law?

    August 21, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  20. zongo

    Every state should legalize marijuana like we did here in Colorado, the voters spoke and they said they were tired of the war on drugs and voted to treat marijuana like alcohol. Put it up for a federal vote, let the people decide, as the government has no clue, and are probably protecting their own interests. Legalize it, as it is way safer than alcohol or cigarettes. That's the problem with D.C. they have no common sense.

    August 21, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  21. dj

    Well it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Here we have a president that did both cocaine and marijuana so he knows very well what the effects of both are. Yet they still have marijuana as a schedule one drug. What this basically means is that the government says it is much safer to do crack cocaine then it is to smoke a joint.

    August 21, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  22. Whatever

    Guess what....no one cares if it's legal or not. The legality of MJ is of no concern to individual users. It's not legal now and not one person stops smoking it as a result. You want to make it legal....cool. You want to keep it illegal....cool. Whatever. It's getting smoked either way.

    August 21, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  23. J.Nolan

    "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?"....Why should his stance change from breaking one law or ignoring others? His record is constant by any measure that he will lie, blame others and lie again. No matter if it is ever legal or not, I would trust a convicted drug dealers word before I would believe him or his cabinet.

    August 21, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. wakeup

    People of America stop letting the rich decide whats best for us and make the decision yourselves , If we're a democracy then don't let the "bourgeois" decide whats best for you you have to make that decision yourselves we're all grown adults we're fully capable of making our own decisions.

    August 21, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  25. ed dugan

    As usual, he's all hat and no cattle. No reasonable person would follow that "drug trafficer" line. If you legalize it there won't be any trafficers. What a phony!

    August 21, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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