August 21st, 2013
02:34 PM ET
8 years 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. kman821

    "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.

    How is this any different than his position on DOMA? Obama is no Liberal and lacks consistency.

    August 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  2. Nikos

    Of course Democrats favor legalization. They thrive on misinformed lazy voters. Add stoned to the mix and you have a Democratic/Communistic government until you run out of other people's money.

    August 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  3. The Real Issue

    The real issue with Gupta, is why, as a supposed rigorous scientific mind, did he take his previous anti-cannabis stance, without having review the evidence first?

    A person who is in a position of respect and power shouldn't come to have fully formed beliefs on the issues until they have at least looked at the available evidence.

    Gupta, you're a hack!

    August 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  4. Wayne

    The article itself doesn't say so, but the headlines (both the one at the top and the one on the CNN homepage) seem to imply that the White House is in charge of making laws. Please make sure your web staff at least have their GEDs.

    August 21, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  5. Hogarth

    That cannabis is illegal is a mark of humanity's madness. We are a ridiculous life form; nature's biggest mistake.

    August 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  6. TiredOfPaying

    I honestly can't understand why MJ is still illegal. Prohibition should have proved that any attempt to legislate morality fails horribly – causing a criminal underground as well. The only reason I see it remaining illegal is because of Big Pharm, the Police State and the Private Prision Systems. They are the ones making money off of it being illegal. That's NOT a valid reason to keep it illegal – in fact such corruption should itself be illegal. Private Prisons? Really? So the 'paid your debt to society' and 'rehabilitation' theories have been replaced with 'repeat customers are good'?

    August 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    "They are making a lot of money putting pot users in these privately run prisons"

    Indeed...and a lot of them, especially in states like AZ and TX, are very much hoping they can get a piece of the action when we "round 'em all up and throw 'em in jail until they can be deported" when it comes to immigration. They're a huge source of financial backing for ridiculous immigration policies.

    August 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  8. Name Rob

    I can't believe out of hand this has become. The plant has been around since the.beggining of time. The earliest books talk about how it was used for medicine. Through out the Bible it talks about using the herb instead of alchohol. Our Forefathers grew it and used it. At one time if one didn't grow it, one was jailed. Wars were faught on cannibas seeds. I recently read a text book from 1860 sewickly P.A. on how it was used as major cash crop, medicine, and yes Arithmetic.

    August 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  9. Andrew

    "I didn't get nailed for burning a fatty, and won't, but you might"


    August 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  10. Wheels

    I work in construction, all the guys i work with either drink or smoke weed when the day is done....the ones who smoke weed tend to show up the next morning ready to work and with a good attitude...where are the guys who drink show up hungover, angry and call in sick all the time. Yet the smoker is the one who can get fired from random testing (which they all use fake urine for)

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  11. To much bud is bad bud

    Then explain why are people getting cured of cancer from the plant that you say doesn't have any medical use ????????? I think we have seen enough medical proof to reclassify this plant. Obama needs to open his eyes.

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  12. ShingoEX

    Well, I guess we're going to continue to have more drug-related murders, and more overpopulated jail cells.

    It's prohibition v2.

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  13. Dave

    Listen to the people who elected you. The laws ARE changing, if we have to ruin a bunch of political careers to get those changes – we the people WILL.

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  14. Roboyd01

    I feel betrayed on a daily basis for the fact that I supported this administration. Over the past year it has become clear that political pandering and maintaining the status quo is much more important to Obama than the people of this country. I only hope the broken 2 party system can be beaten and we can get a real leader in office in 2016. Shame on you Obama.

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  15. Arsh

    Legal pot costs would for the most part be lower. And when it's not it's like alcohol. you can buy the stuff bub made in his bathtub and risk death or you could just go to the store. American's are lazy, they go to the store.

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  16. John N. Seattle, WA

    Unsurprising. The administration is deaf when it comes to the will of the people. I am starting to regret voting for him!

    August 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  17. Danlien

    What an epic fail on behalf of the White House. This is against the will of the people in a MAJOR WAY. So out of touch. If the G.O.P ever wanted a freebie that will give them a major boost, this is it.

    August 21, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  18. Brad

    Obama doesn't want the price of his wacky weed to go up. He likes being able to get it so cheaply in the back alleys.

    August 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  19. Mike Stenberg

    I am against having a King. this is none of Obama's business just like everything else his power hungry socialist ass sticks his nose into.

    August 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  20. Republicans

    You can't tax pot anymore than you can tax roses it any other plant. That's the problem. Legalizing weed will on give drug traffickers a legal way to get their other illegal drugs across the border. You'll see truckloads of pot with hidden cashes of heroin and other illegal drugs.

    August 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  21. Byron

    The President of the United States will only follow laws. Good that he's a follower not a leader. Nobody likes a president that leads. Presidents need to follow the real people in power. Obey.

    August 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  22. Phil

    The Choom Gang weeps. How could you do this to us Barry?

    August 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |

    Eyes are shut to the truth. He has an agenda. Too bad for the little girl with 300 seizures a week. Back to seizing.

    August 21, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  24. Bob

    Just legalize it already!!!

    August 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  25. Jeff6187

    I've tried for 4 years to support Mr. Obama even when I'm not thrilled with his decisions and policies. His job is incredibly tough, and the issues he's faced would be overwhelming to most. But on this, I have to say ... he's being one of those "bury your head in the sand and "C your A" conservatives he spent so much time criticizing. He KNOWS that there is a large body of evidence that for certain illnesses, marijuana IS the most effective way to address symptoms. he KNOWS that the laws now simply favor the snakes who set up "medical marijuana" shops and make huge fortunes.

    I have a friend who uses medical marijuana for extreme pain and an array of other symptoms ... it works. The tragic part is that when I took him to the doctor to get that "medical marijuana approval letter", the doctor looked at him, laughed, and said "finally! a valid case!" Doctors, Dealers, patients all know that today's laws are outdated and need to be brought into the 21st century. Poor Mr. Obama can't seem to get there himself. You just lost a lot of respect from a lot of people.

    August 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
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