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President Obama Breaks His Silence on Marijuana Legalization: We’ve Got Bigger Fish to Fry Than Cannabis Users

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director December 14, 2012

    Breaking his silence on the topic of marijuana legalization since two states approved ballot initiatives to regulate cannabis, President Barack Obama addressed the issue in an interview with Barbara Walters this week.

    While the administration’s broader policy is still being developed, the president stated that arresting recreational users in these states would not be a priority.

    “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. 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. – President Obama

    The president also clarified that he personally is not in favor of leglization, but that it is a more complex issue than his own view on it:

    “This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law. 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?” – President Obama

    One line stands out as particularly interesting, during his answer he says:

    “What I think is, that at this point, in Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. – President Obama

    This is a great start and an encouraging sign that the federal government doesn’t intend to ramp up its focus on individual users. Though considering it is extremely rare for the federal government to handle possession cases (only a few percent of annual arrests are conducted by the federal government), and that this is the same stance he took on medical cannabis before raiding more dispensaries than his predecessor, his administration’s broader policy will be the one to watch and according to his Attorney General Holder that pronouncement may come soon. Speaking yesterday in Boston, Attorney General Holder stated that:

    “There is a tension between federal law and these state laws. I would expect the policy pronouncement that we’re going to make will be done relatively soon.” – Attorney General Eric Holder

    UPDATE: Politico has now posted President Obama’s interview for viewing. Check it out below.

    126 Responses to “President Obama Breaks His Silence on Marijuana Legalization: We’ve Got Bigger Fish to Fry Than Cannabis Users”

    1. Torres says:

      Gives me hope. Article made a great point though. Medical marijuana was in a similar position and you see what he ‘did’ about it, contrary to what he ‘said’ he would do.

    2. Bhonze says:

      Sounds like he will do the same as he has with MMJ, Not go after users but he will raid the stores and shut them down just as he as allowed for MMJ dispensaries.

    3. […] response to legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Erik Altieri analyzes Obama's statements: This […]

    4. […] Mr. Obama indicated to ABC News that ‘he has bigger fish to fry’ when asked about what if anythi…. Whether the president is going to expend any political capital at all in actually advancing cannabis law reforms in his last four years remains to be seen, but, the man should act post haste, giving a nod to the new legal era America has entered regarding cannabis prohibition, on this well researched and written petition by granting clemency to these former and now elderly pot cultivators and smugglers. […]

    5. JOHN DYKHUIZEN says:

      How can a man who smoked marijuana himself, and gone on to become president of The United States…pretend to ”weigh” the risks and play ”dumb” concerning marijuana when he KNOWS its less harmful than substances that are legal. Smokers know we’d rather do so legally,but if the US government wants to keep the cartels in business,I for one have never had any problem finding smoke, and am certain I never will….

    6. gtrf says:

      FWIW the sellers of legal mj not the buyers are the ones being targeted.

    7. Sherwin Sanchez says:

      Just another blowhard politician, saying one thing as hes doing another.

    8. Michael Miller says:

      I never knew that Alaskans can have up to 25 plants in their residence. So it’s legal there. I’m confused. I thought CO and WA were the first to legalize.

    9. Disappointed says:

      States with legalization, want cannabis to be grown in their state legally, on private property, in a regulated fashion, by approved citizens. Not to have cannabis grown illegally in state parks or smuggled over borders. To raid legal sources is to give an advantage to illegal sources. Very disappointing to hear more Orwellian word game speeches, looks like 2nd term won’t be different. Raids need to stop.

    10. j says:

      Believe this when a bill gets passed…

    11. Darren says:

      Just to clarify, he said he wouldn’t go after the USERS, but did not say he wouldn’t go after growers and sellers.

    12. christopher says:

      I think this is a very good step towards the laws being changed in favor of new,better justice on possesion charges.I wonder if this would mean that you could have older charges made less,even dropped?

    13. christopher says:

      If this all goes well;then people can get jobs as growers,this is of very importance as we all need a job especialy if you’ve got kids to raise.There are many uses of cannabis,jobs can be made with it.I truely believe the crime rate will drop;so you people out there in the world don’t be using marijuana,go breakin’ the law we work to hard to get here for you to piss it away for the rest of us.So as citizens we need to help our fellow bros.,sisters not to be out doin’ wrong.We need to learn to help one another.

    14. Kevin Howard says:

      I’m a supporter of President Obama, so it makes me doubly angry that he continues to lie to the public on this issue. He keeps citing federal law as an obstacle to change at the state level, but the HHS and the DEA both have the authority to reschedule marijuana, and they work for him. Attorney General Holder even admitted this to some HuffPost staff at a fundraiser. After reading that comment I found an article on Wiki discussing it. It is written into the Controlled Substances Act. Lies, damn lies, and politicians. What BS.

    15. Joe Blow says:

      YOU LIE!!!!

      (again)

    16. kieffer says:

      I voted for Obama, even though he made derogatory statements about tribal efforts to restore salmon to our rivers! I am ashamed of this nation, again we see how natives are set in a second class citizen situation by this nation. We natives who are not allowed to use a medicinal plant while the non-natives are allowed to use it for fun. Where is the justice in that?

      There is no justice in this country.

    17. Tom says:

      Excited to read this article. Gives me hope that our government does think and would actually concider the thought of legalization.

    18. Zuke says:

      Honestly, the fact that it’s his second term is what makes me the most hopeful. Previously he was walking on glass with douchebags, primarily conservative douchebags, that would look for any excuse to jump on him, so the last thing he needed was to be viewed as being so terribly liberal as to actually consider reconsidering drug laws.

      Now that he’s in his second and last term, hopefully he won’t have to pander to the traditional right wing crowd nearly as much as he did previously. Granted, as I always point out to people, the president isn’t truly that powerful. He isn’t the monarch of the U.S.; president Obama could come out tomorrow and say “I believe the war on drugs is a disgusting, criminally twisted and corrupt joke that has done absolutely nothing but sacrifice the well being of the country to satisfy the greed of a small group of individuals who are likely just as evil and self-serving as most drug lords. Therefore, it is my belief that we should seek to reform U.S. drug policy in general so as to approach the issue with a focus on reason and compassion rather than fear and greed, starting with the nationwide legalization of marijuana”…
      And it wouldn’t mean anything. It’s primarily up to congress to get the ball rolling on stuff like that; the president doesn’t come in until afterward.

      Don’t get me wrong, I realize that the president supporting a cause is a big deal and is certainly very helpful, even if just from a public opinion standpoint, I’m just saying that even should Obama stand up for states’ rights to legalize it, without any concrete changes I’m pretty sure that the thugs that have been harassing states like California will be free to continue bullying anyone they feel like, and that’s the real problem here.

    19. jim says:

      What big fish is he trying to fry? Just because he’s focused on the big piece of fish doesn’t mean the little ones are off the radar to get fried. So some girl in college told him he was being an ass; so instead of saying it was his fault he was being an ass; he blamed cannabis, and quit.

      Sir, you know what a scapegoat is and instead of saying your choices were yours, you blamed cannabis for those choices…maybe the talk that girl gave you made you grow a little, and that’s the change that was really needed… someone to pull you to the side and say; man what are you doing?

      Well, now there are millions of Americans; trying to do that with you on the issue of medical cannabis, and you aren’t having it…so did you really change that day back in college? We all make choices and as responsible people we have to own our choices. We can’t blame anyone or anything on what we choose to do…when someone drives drunk, the alcohol isn’t jailed the person is; for their poor choice.

      I know you are a rational and thoughtful man; and the above will make sense to you. Yes it is a touchy issue; but the majority of your political party want this legislation…they have done you a solid twice and put you into office…mainly on this issue alone…isn’t it about time you repay that solid?

      A recommendation from you would certainly; help regardless of the powers your branch holds…Bush jumped into war without Congressional consent, so you are not completely powerless to guide the countries course on this issue.

      Thanks

    20. D says:

      i think the president secretly wants to legalize marijuana but is afraid of being targeted by pharmaceutical companies…

    21. Chris says:

      Then fix the laws!

    22. WitchoftheWilds says:

      I adore what Zuke said, and echo his statement. The president really doesn’t have as much power as people like to believe he does, and it’s really not as simple as stating he’s for it and then magically fixes the laws.

      I’m glad he has a second term, as he can now be a little more open about his beliefs without fear about his position in politics degenerating. Even now, honestly, it’s hard for him to come out about his personal view on cannabis (whether or not he is over his high school days or not, and whether he really is for or against it) seeing as how he will still have jobs to do after being President, and most likely political-positions still.

      It’s like how he came out about supporting LBGT. In the beginning, he denied supporting them. But as he became more confident in his position, he’s been able to come out and say how he supports gay and lesbian relationships. Even then, the backlash he’s gotten from /that/ is outstandingly upsetting (I have a cousin who now absolutely despises Obama just from that, which is sad seeing as how he doesn’t know my actual sexuality).

      The War on Drugs is an even harder subject to crack, seeing as how we’re only just starting to get the turn-around with states legalizing, and even then the country is on egg-shells seeing if it will work (which I’m absolutely confident it will unless the federals come in), or if it will go up in flames — flames worse than people’s joints.

      If Obama were president, say, 5 to 10 years from now (virtually impossible however), maybe then he could confidently tell the US his opinion on the subject of cannabis without the unfortunate half of the country bursting into outrage and his job for the present and future being threatened. Once more people who are ignorant start to see how, oh hey, cannabis isn’t so bad, and maybe when schools don’t go around teaching that it’s a gateway drug that’s addictive (and not specify how it’s mentally technically, but not physically). The fact he even made this statement makes me very pleased.

    23. […] Feds crack down less (sort of) – In December 2012, Obama broke his silence on marijuana legalization during an interview with […]

    24. […] federal government doesn’t intend to ramp up its focus on individual users,” Altieri wrote on the organization’s website. “Though considering it is extremely rare for the federal government to handle possession […]

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