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December 14, 2012

Intriguing new comments from President Obama on federal pot prohibition policy

As reported in this notable new Washington Post piece, the President of the United States had some notable new things to say about marijuana reform policy in a notable new interview slated to be broadcast this evening.  Here are the details:

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama told Barbara Walters that recreational pot smoking in states that have legalized the drug is not a major concern for his administration.   “We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said of marijuana smokers in Colorado and Washington, the two states where recreational use is now legal.

“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,” he said.

Under Obama, the Drug Enforcement Administration has aggressively gone after medical marijuana dispensaries in California, where they are legal.  In September, federal officials raided several Los Angeles shops and sent warnings to many more.

“This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law,” Obama told Walters of the legalization in Colorado and Washington.  “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?”

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech Wednesday that he would announce a policy on the new state laws “relatively soon.” The president, who smoked pot often in high school, told Walters that he does not support general legalization “at this point.”

“There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid,” Obama told Walters. “My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society.”

The phrases I have highlighted above suggest to me that Prez Obama is most eager to (and in my view, most wise to) take a "wait and see" approach to federal marijuana policy reforms.  This approach, I suspect, is likely to pay particular attention to any and all evidence about whether and how state marijuana legalization impacts substance abuse realities. 

Supporters of pot prohibition reform would be wise now to try to document whether and how marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington has an impact on substance abuse dynamics.  Any evidence that legalization of marijuana actually makes it easier to restrict drug access to kids or to get heavy drug users into treatment could go a long way toward making it easer for the Obama Adminstration to embrace federal reforms.   In addition, and in line with recent data trends in this area (as reported in this post), supporters of pot prohibition reform would be wise to document any and all evidence that marijuana legalization leads folks to use/abuse less frequently other legal but risky drugs like tobacco and alcohol and pain killers.

In short, I read Obama's comments as early evidence that his administration is prepared to adopt an evolving public health approach to these matters rather than a rigid crime and punishment view.  I hope I am right in this assessment, because that is how I think these complicated and contingent social and legal issues should be considered.

A few recent and older related posts: 

December 14, 2012 at 10:09 AM | Permalink


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