Obama: U.S. won't prosecute marijuana users
"We've got bigger fish to fry," President Obama told Barbara Walters of ABC News in a White House interview set to air Friday (Dec. 14).
"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," the president said.
Though recreational marijuana use now is legal in two states, federal law still says use of the drug for any purpose is illegal.
Obama told Walters he does not "at this point" support widespread legalization of marijuana, but he has noticed that public opinion on the issue is changing and realizes government resources for prosecuting users are thin, ABC News reported.
"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," 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 it's legal?"
Federally, marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are criminal acts, ABC News noted. That puts it in the same category as heroin, LSD and "Ecstasy."
After a speech in Boston Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hinted at when he will announce a policy on the new state laws.
"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," Holder said.
At the president's request, Holder is examining the issues surrounding federal and state laws on marijuana.
"There are a number of issues that have to be considered, among them the impact that drug usage has on young people, [and] we have treaty obligations with nations outside the United States," Holder said.
Recently, Mexico's new president expressed regret that the United States would allow the recreational use of marijuana, which could have dire consequences for the war on drugs raging south of the border.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has aggressively pursued medical marijuana dispensaries in California, one of 18 states where medical marijuana is legal, The Washington Post said. Federal officials in September raided several Los Angeles shops and sent warnings to others. But they're not targeting individual users.
Also in the ABC News interview, Obama said, "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."
Marijuana officially became legal in Washington in early December and will become legal in Colorado in January.
ABC News noted that Obama admitted in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams from My Father," that he smoked marijuana regularly with his high school friends.
"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," Obama told Walters. "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society. I want to discourage drug use."
According to a report by CBS4 in Denver Dec. 13, marijuana use already is the most common addiction in teenagers at a drug and alcohol counseling center in Thornton, Colo., and the cases are expected to increase now that recreational marijuana is accepted.
"Children are more likely to become dependent when they start use early, even if it's an advertant use," Angela Bornemann of Arapahoe House said.
Sgt. Jim Gerhardt of the North Metro Drug Task Force in Denver told the CBS affiliate there is "plenty of evidence" that marijuana is harmful to children.
"I can't even believe I have to say that," Gerhardt said. "We've seen children infant age that have been getting into this stuff and hospitalized, and this has been under medical marijuana. I can't imagine how bad it's going to get with full-blown legalization."
Brownies laced with marijuana have been problematic recently, CBS4 reported. A teenage girl in Colorado Springs was hospitalized after she received and ate such a brownie from a 14-year-old boy who now faces a felony drug charge. Even if children don't know what they're eating, the effects of the drug are serious, Bornemann said.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).