Prosecuting recreational marijuana users in Washington and Colorado is not a federal law enforcement priority, given already strained resources, said President Barack Obama Friday.
Obama’s remarks Friday break the government’s silence on how they would be handling the states’s new laws legalizing the personal use of up to one ounce of marijuana.
“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,” Obama said in an ABC News interview. “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.”
The state laws are in conflict with the the federal Controlled Substances Act, which makes marijuana use and possession illegal on a national level. Voters in the two states in November approved ballot measures to legalize pot’s recreational use.
The president said he’s asked Attorney General Eric Holder to examine the new laws. He said the it’s a “tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law,” adding that “what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about” reconciling the federal and state laws, according to a report by Reuters.
Obama’s comments mirror his 2009 remarks on medical marijuana, effectively saying he would not direct law enforcement to prosecute those lawfully abiding by state-designated laws allowing the use and distribution of medical marijuana. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use and sale of medical marijuana.
The Justice Department has been mostly mum on the subject since the measures passed on Election Day. Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh released nearly identical statements in recent weeks, reiterating the government’s position on marijuana with regard to the Controlled Substances Act.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced this week he will be holding a hearing on the new marijuana laws next year.