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

    i know lets legalize all the problems then obama can sign off as being the greatest president ever because he solved them ll.....what a joke this president is...

    December 14, 2012 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    Ancient Texan wrote:

    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!
    ---------------------
    There is a "states' rights" issue in play here, fellas. I would've figured that you boys would be all in when it comes to states' rights. Besides, ignoring marijuana laws will not break the economy. Not like the Bush administration ignored financial and other types of regulations and wound up breaking the economy.

    You're living in a glass house with your line of argument, fellas, so please don't start any throwing rocks.

    December 14, 2012 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  3. SEAN SCOTT

    Laws against marijuana are rooted in racism. Various state and federal US politicians beginning around the 1940's made public statements that Marijuana made "negro's" lust for white women and caused them to be violent towards whites. President Richard Nixon, who hated the hippy counter culture, personally felt that marijuana made the hippies turn against their country. Today, drug laws are most harshly enforced against blacks with blacks serving on average five times greater sentences that whites for the same "illegal drug."

    December 14, 2012 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  4. J

    Lots of losers on here saying he "isn't enforcing our laws." Here is the problem. We simply do not have the money to close down the pot dispenaries and plant owners in the states that legalize it. Who would you rather them use our limited resources on?...the cartels and violent gangs on the streets or some marijuana dispensaries who sell weed but don't kill anybody while doing it?

    December 14, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  5. Mike

    You guys I have the solution to all of this. The Federal government could strictly crack down on all these violent criminals breaking laws in the comforts of their own living rooms. Then we could build more and more, bigger and bigger prisons to house these violent, violent stoners. Think about all the people that would be put to work building these prisons. Unemployment = solved. Think of the children you guys. 'Merica

    December 14, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  6. befuddled

    Just legalize the weed and arrest some banksters. Problem solved.

    December 14, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  7. fiftyfive55

    A gigantic tax revenue is staring them right in the face and hopefully they recognize it.

    December 14, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  8. Holyvision

    Just legalize it at the federal level already and get those billions of dollars to stop flowing into drug dealer hands, and into the country's wallet instead. It's an outdated and dis-proven law that is out of it's time - like prohibition and alcohol. It's time for this plant to stop being referred to as a "drug", and instead be made into a money making cash crop for the nation.

    December 14, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  9. freedom

    The federal government is missing a huge chance here to solve all of our fiscal problems. Now that some states have legalized pot the feds should also legalize it and then tax it heavily before the states figure out that this is a good way to raise money. Maybe even sell it in government pot shops. Don't have to spend so much on prisons and have added a huge revenue stream

    December 14, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  10. Maggie

    Maybe some of you against the President NOT wasting our precious tax dollars going after low level marijuana users, growers, and dealers should read these posts...the majority of people reading seem to agree...get with the times GOP, average Americans don't care about someone smoking a joint after work, or a man going to marry his husband, until you do, you won't be in office for a long time! All the conservative right wing guys are getting old and my generation is coming in, I LOVE IT!!!

    December 14, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. Wasted Time

    Isnt that along the lines of what he said before he was elected and then he sent the feds out to raid Cali medical dispensaries? Has everyone already forgotten about that?

    December 14, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  12. Jason

    Pot has many medical uses, is a very low risk high, about the only thing in danger is your motivation. Alcohol is way more dangerous.
    Prohibition never works. I think we should go back to almost all laws being at a state level, that way, if one or two states want to be very liberal, or very conservative, let 'em. That's what the founding father intended.

    December 14, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  13. CJ

    So when federal law is ignored by Washington and Colorado, Obama doesn't think it's worth his while to enforce it. But when Arizona wants to enforce federal law, Obama tells them they don't have the right. Talk about pandering for votes. Illegals and potheads, Yes We Can!

    December 14, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  14. Patricia

    Obama has ordered more Raids on medical marijuana than any president before him. The man is a LIAR. Bush raided like 40 retailers while Obama has raided over 140... He has NOT left anything in Cali alone.

    December 14, 2012 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  15. dax

    House bill 6606 ,people call your reps push this bill 🙂 help fight the war on cannabis

    December 14, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  16. J0nx

    That's about the smartest thing I've heard ANY politician say in many years. Maybe there is hope for this guy after all...

    December 14, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  17. rosethornne

    Prohibition has NEVER WORKED, it just encourages crime and costs huge amounts of money.

    It's stupid, stop it.

    Although, the rights of those of us who do NOT want the stench/effects of pot need to be safeguarded as well.

    December 14, 2012 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  18. jaimie

    Some day we will stop all the illegal anything made in China from entering the USA. Some day... but not today

    December 14, 2012 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  19. Scott

    Why do we even have laws if they aren't enforced?

    December 14, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  20. SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    Congress should get to work reissuing the pot stamp – already exists – then they can stop spending money enforcong and collect more taxes. Come on people, It's pot. The vast majority of prescriptions out there and even over the counter meds cause worse health problems – not to mention foods and beverages we buy and consume on a daily basis. This should be dealt with swiftly and we should move on to things that actually matter.

    December 14, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  21. rob-in-austin

    bravo obama, bravo.

    December 14, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  22. Sniffit

    "law enforcement agents seized 3.9 million plants in the Golden State and were poised to collect more this year. "

    Do the math: 3.9M plants x 6 oz. per year = 23,400,000 ozs. At $420 per oz., that's almost $10B in commerce. Tax them at $10 per oz and you've got $234,000,000 in tax revenue. Add in the savings from switching from useless, ineffective enforcement and incarcerations to administration of a new industry and it's even more. That's just the plants they found and ruined. Now, factor in all the commerce related to the industry (farm equipment, hydroponics, etc.) and secondary commerce for products made with it (not just brownies, cookies, etc.), all of which would also be generating ax revenue. Add in a little industrial hemp for good measure and then consider the damage it would do to the Mexican drug cartels if we were growing our own and they couldn't compete with their nasty weed.

    CA currently has a budget deficit of approximately $1.9B per annum. If you think that legalizing marijuana would not go a long way to solving that problem, you need to think again.

    December 14, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  23. Potisnot harmful

    Enough wasting money enforcing laws on a drug that is less harmful than Alcohol or Tobaccoo
    Sell it and tax it just like alcohol or tobacco.
    Only reason it is outlawed is because the tobacco and Alcohol industries lobbied hard for it to be. It is far harder to self grow or self brew either of them compared to Marijuana.

    December 14, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  24. rosethornne

    Prohibition has NEVER WORKED, it just encourages crime and costs huge amounts ofmoney.

    It’s ignorant,stop it.

    Although, the rights of those of us who do NOT want the smell/effects of pot need to be safeguarded as well.

    December 14, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  25. Anonymous

    Can you get emphysema by smoking pot for a long time?

    December 14, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
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