President Barack Obama made it clear in an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters that his administration will not make major efforts to go after marijuana users in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug. Two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized recreational use of marijuana by ballot referendum in 2012.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” the president said during the interview.
Since the elections, many people have been wondering what the federal response would be to new state laws in Colorado and Washington that allow private use of Cannabis. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Act and is still illegal to possess, use, and sell under federal law.
President Obama went on to say that he does not necessarily support wider efforts to legalize marijuana, but at the same time, he believes it should not be a focus for his administration:
"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal.”
After the 2012 elections, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced it would continue to enforce the Controlled Substance Act regardless of ballot initiatives passed by states. However, the language the DEA used was that its enforcement would remain “unchanged” and that it had no additional comments on the matter.
The issue of marijuana legalization is something the United States is pretty evenly divided on. There are some people who believe that the federal government should continue to enforce the Controlled Substance Act and take a tough stance on drug use. Some people believe that Congress should reform national drug policy and make it legal while others believe the matter should be left up to the states.
"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," the president added. "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?"
The interview, which is set to air on Friday, will come as a relief to some lawmakers and residents of Colorado and Washington. For now, President Obama is not calling for escalation in drug enforcement. His response, however, may be perceived by some as the same kind of balancing act we heard from him on the issue of same-sex marriage, another hotly debated social issue, earlier this year.