President Calls for National “Conversation” on Reconciling Conflicting State and Federal Laws, and Holder May Decide What to Do Within a Month.
In his first public comments on the issue after both the states of Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, President Barack Obama said that the feds should not prosecute that kind of use in those states. “You’ve seen the voters speak on this issue,” he said. The President was interviewed by ABC News and it was released today. In that interview, he stated:
“It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
At this point (in) Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And, as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions.”
On November 6th, Washington and Colorado became the first states in the country to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot for private us by an an individual. This is “straight up” legalization, not just medicinal marijuana, as in California and 17 other states.
But, as all observers know, pot is still an “illegal narcotic” under federal law. And despite the legalization by California voters of medical herb, federal law officials have even intensified their efforts to crack down on pot dispensaries over the last two years. This is because there has been no direction from the White House otherwise, and the Department of Justice maintains that pot remains a federally controlled substance.
A Justice Department spokesperson also said on Friday that the President’s comments do not mean that Department officials have finalized their review of the Colorado and Washington laws. Reuters reported that:
Asked whether Drug Enforcement Administration agents were arresting people for possessing pot in Colorado and Washington, spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said “DEA’s focus has always been to disrupt and dismantle large-scale drug trafficking organization-not to arrest individual users.”
Before everyone rushes to go out and buy their federally-approved rolling papers and bongs, the President did tell ABC that, as Reuters reported:
… [the President] would not go so far as to say pot should be legalized altogether. There are also concerns about drug use in children and violence, the father of two told ABC, according to its website.
Obama himself admitted to regularly smoking pot in high school in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams of My Father,” but has expressed regret. “I want to discourage drug use,” he told ABC.
Obama: We need a conversation on how to reconcile federal and state laws
The President did say the situation “a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law.” He then told ABC that “what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about” how to reconcile federal and state laws.
The President has ordered U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to examine the issue. After a speech he made in Boston this past Tuesday, Holder stated that his Justice Department is still considering its options but will act “relatively soon,” possibly with a month.
“I think we will come up with a policy that will be respective of federal law but also will make sure we are effective in our fight against crime that truly has an impact on the American people.”
Congress Expected to Act
The US Congress is expected to act on the issue – possibly as early as January, when it reconvenes. Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy stated on Thursday that he will be holding a hearing next month. Leahy also called for the reconciliation of state and federal laws by Congress by the amendment of federal law to allow small amounts of pot in those states that have voted to legalize it. In a letter on drug policy made public, Leahy said:
“In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington.”
Polls have shown that for the first time now, a majority of American voters support the legalization of marijuana. Hopefully, the Justice Department and Congress can get their respective acts together and hop on the side of the people. The people have spoken, and they continue to speak.
Legalization advocates and their supporters, as well as medical her supporters and those with common sense need to keep up the pressure on this issue – now is the time.
Much of the above was based on an article by Susan Heavey at Reuters .