Obama: Enforcing pot laws in states that have legalized it not a top priority
December 14th, 2012
09:37 AM ET
10 years ago

Obama: Enforcing pot laws in states that have legalized it not a top priority

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama says that federal law enforcement agencies have "bigger fish to fry" than prosecuting marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, which voted in November to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Obama made explicit in an interview to air Friday on ABC News that prosecution of marijuana users in the two states would be placed low on his Justice Department's list of law enforcement priorities, but that certain issues must still be ironed out as more states could pass similar legislation.

"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?"

In a statement Monday, U.S. Attorney John Walsh said that the Department of Justice is "reviewing" the initiatives passed in both states and that the department's "responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged."

"Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10 in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law," Walsh said.

The Justice Department is familiar with negotiating contradictory state and federal laws on marijuana. Aside from the two states which have legalized recreational use of marijuana, 18 states and the District of Columbia have allowed legal use of the drug for medical reasons.

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning it's dangerous and has no medical use. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, ecstasy, and psychedelic mushrooms. Medical marijuana advocates say it should be listed under Schedule II, comparing it to other prescription painkillers that have a high potential for abuse.

In California alone, more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries are in business, employing thousands and providing state and local governments as much as $105 million in taxes each year.

But federal prosecutors are getting tougher. Last year, law enforcement agents seized 3.9 million plants in the Golden State and were poised to collect more this year.

Marijuana advocates say the attack collides with California's law and goes against a campaign promise by Obama to not circumvent the state's relaxed rules.

A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted after November's election indicated 64% of Americans felt the federal government should not take steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where it has been made legal for recreational use.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted between November 28 and December 3 showed 51% of registered voters nationwide thought marijuana should be made legal in the United States, compared to 44% who thought it should remain illegal.

CNNMoney's Jose Paliery contributed to this report.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    That weed looks totally crappy. Couldn't you find some kind, CNN?

    December 14, 2012 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  2. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Sniffit I don't even think it is weed! It looks more like the dried oregano that dealers use to rip off potheads!

    December 14, 2012 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ....Or so I've heard! Ahem!

    December 14, 2012 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  4. Larry in Houston

    LOL – looks like dried parsley – lol – well, to be perfectly honest, this is the only thing that will get us debt free, in this country, I mean, hate to say it, but if we go like colorado goes, and take the "criminal element" OUT OF IT – we may be better off . During prohibition – ( or shall I say after) they Finally took the criminal element out of Liquor.

    December 14, 2012 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  5. Emerson

    The Republican party is preventing this country from confronting its biggest issue which is the economy and jobs. It is beyond ironic that the GOP won in 2010 on that issue and then after takin over the House, did nothing but try to tear down social programs (they are not entitlements, entitlements are what you get for nothing and we pay into social security and Medicare).

    December 14, 2012 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  6. Rudy NYC


    That weed looks totally crappy. Couldn't you find some kind, CNN?
    Yup. No red or black hairs. No buds, just crumbled up leaves. How come it isn't tinted more towards the blue if it has no seeds?

    December 14, 2012 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  7. Rick McDaniel

    There he goes again. Not enforcing the nation's laws!

    December 14, 2012 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You have these states screaming about interference and state's rights...let them deal with this.

    December 14, 2012 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  9. Sniffit

    See...and if we legalize it, then all the Mexican drug lords will have to stop peddling that nasty, seedy, brown-brick shwag if they want to compete in the "free market."

    LOLZ This comment section should be fun....

    December 14, 2012 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  10. Ancient Texan

    Rick McDaniel- Right. This administration enforces the laws it likes and ignores those they don't ....and manages to break a few along the way!

    December 14, 2012 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  11. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Rudy NYC


    That weed looks totally crappy. Couldn't you find some kind, CNN?
    Yup. No red or black hairs. No buds, just crumbled up leaves. How come it isn't tinted more towards the blue if it has no seeds?
    This is what I'm saying!
    What's up with that CNN?!
    Screw the story, the weed looks WHACK!! LOL!!!

    December 14, 2012 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  12. Sniffit

    Teatroll control the House at the moment and the states that have legalized it (or at least decriminalized it) are blue states that went to Obama. Guess how much action the House Teatrolls are going to be willing to take to help resolve the conflict/conundrum this presents for federal law enforcement/Obama's administration. Guess.

    December 14, 2012 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  13. Troy


    December 14, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  14. PCV

    It is much more important to him to punish the successful!

    December 14, 2012 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  15. MarkinFL

    Where are all the Republicans hiding from this state's rights issue? I thought they were such BIG advocates it.
    Hey guys, when you are for a broad right ONLY when it affects your personal issues we call that hypocrisy.

    December 14, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  16. GK

    Of course he does. He's too busy campaigning even though he's got another four years to destroy Amercia. He's gonna have to work fast and actually enforcing laws would be too much work.

    December 14, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  17. Im living in a prison state

    I couldnt agree with the prez more. What a total waste of trillions of dollars, incarcerating tens of thousands, and the building of a prison state. What a waste.

    December 14, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  18. Mike in Denver

    Wow. That picture looks more like dried oregano. No medical dispensary sells shake like that.

    December 14, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  19. LOLOL

    With all the power the GOP thinks Obama has and no president ever had, why doesn't he just sign an executive order making it legal lol?

    December 14, 2012 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  20. Chris

    Well mows the chance everyone. Start pushing this issue in your state. If you want that change. Here your chance. Lets make it a priority. He'll deal with it if its 20 states instead of 2 let's get to it people

    December 14, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  21. OldSchool

    I'm just glad to hear him say SOMETHING regarding this issue. As far as I am aware it never came up during the campaign, and it isn't a trivial issue...

    December 14, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  22. Bart Fargo

    If the experience in California is any precedent, this statement is just more PR hot air. The federal drug war will continue unabated across the country.

    December 14, 2012 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  23. jrzydvl

    MarkinFL The DEMS already usurped that power. THey made it illegal(had to pass a vote at some point). Once it is a federal law, the states are obligated to follow it. Fed law trumps state law. You are very confused about conservative views on states rights. Or you are simply ranting. I'll go with ranting

    December 14, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  24. Jem4016

    There are other ways for the federal government to get the states to fall in step with federal laws. Such as, with hold funding for law enforcement from those state which don't enforce federal law. The federal government did this in the 70's with road funding to get the states to go to a 55 mph speed limit. The approach Obama is following is naive.

    December 14, 2012 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  25. Patriot Awesome

    The money saved from not going after pot heads should be considered a spending cut in the fiscal cliff deal.

    December 14, 2012 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
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