Federal authorities should not target recreational marijuana use in two Western states that voted to make it legal, given limited government resources and growing public acceptance of the controlled substance, says U.S. President Barack Obama.
The first comments of Obama on the issue come weeks after voters in Washington state and Colorado supported legalizing cannabis last month in ballot measures that stand in direct opposition of federal law.
“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,” he said in part of an interview released on Friday. “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,” Obama said.
Under the U.S. federal law, marijuana still remains an illegal drug but Washington and Colorado on November 6 became the first states in the nation to give it a legal status for individuals to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for private use.
Spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said that the “DEA’s focus has always been to disrupt and dismantle large-scale drug trafficking organization – not to arrest individual users,” when asked whether Drug Enforcement Administration agents were arresting people for possessing pot in Colorado and Washington.
Obama called the situation “a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law.” He added that “what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about” how to reconcile federal and state laws and he has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for examining the issue.
Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy said, “In a time of tight budget constraints, I want law enforcement to focus on violent crime,” the Vermont Democrat said in a statement. “But now that we have a gap between federal and state laws on marijuana, we need more information and a wider discussion about where our priorities should be,” and called Obama’s comments Friday “common sense.”