President Suggests Feds Turn Blind Eye to Marijuana
President says country has "bigger fish to fry" than targeting marijuana users. Head of Drug Enforcement Agency says marijuana is illegal and should be seized and users prosecuted. Some are urging Congress to change the federal law.
President Barack Obama says federal law enforcement agencies have more important things to do than to prosecute marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, which voted in November to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
The president made his remarks in a television interview on ABC News. He said prosecution of marijuana users in the two states would be placed low on his Justice Department's list of law enforcement priorities, but that certain issues must still be ironed out as more states could pass similar legislation.
"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Pres. Obama said. "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?’"
In contrast to the president’s remarks, U.S. Attorney John Walsh said the Department of Justice is "reviewing" the initiatives passed in both states and underscored the department's obligation to enforce the laws of the land. He said the “responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. . . . Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10 in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."
This is not the first time the Justice Department has been called on to negotiate contradictory state and federal laws on marijuana. Aside from the two states which have legalized recreational use of marijuana, 18 states and the District of Columbia have allowed legal use of the drug for medical reasons, which are difficult to define.
Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, along with heroine, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms, by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The ranking means the drug is dangerous and has no medical use. Medical marijuana advocates, recreational users and others say the listing is outdated and erroneous, and should be changed to a Schedule II drug, which would compare the drug’s potential for harm to prescription painkillers, which can be used safely but can be harmful if abused.
In California, more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries are in business. While those facilities employ thousands and provide more than $100 million in taxes each year, federal agents seized 3.9 million plants. Whether they will seize more in the coming months remains to be seen in light of President Obama’s recent remarks.
Marijuana advocates say the attack collides with state’s rights.