Marijuana Not High Obama Priority

President Obama says recreational users of marijuana in states that have legalized the substance should not be a “top priority” of federal law enforcement officials prosecuting the war on drugs.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said of pot users in Colorado and Washington during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters.

“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,” he said, invoking the same approach taken toward users of medicinal marijuana in 18 states where it’s legal.

More of Barbara Walters’ exclusive first joint, post-election interview with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama airs tonight on “20/20” at 10 p.m. ET on ABC stations.

Obama’s comments on marijuana are his first following Colorado and Washington voters’ approval of Nov. 7 ballot measures that legalize the recreational use and sale of pot in defiance of federal law.

Marijuana, or cannabis, remains classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are criminal acts. It’s in the same category as heroin, LSD and “Ecstasy,” all deemed to have high potential for abuse.

Obama told Walters he does not – “at this point” – support widespread legalization of marijuana. But he cited shifting public opinion and limited government resources as reasons to find a middle ground on punishing use of the drug.

“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 that it’s legal?”

The president said he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to examine the legal questions surrounding conflicting state and federal laws on drugs.

“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 Wednesday of the review underway.

As a politician, Obama has always opposed legalizing marijuana and downplayed his personal history with the substance.

Obama wrote in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” that he would smoke pot regularly with his high school buddies who formed a “club of disaffection.” The group was known as the “Choom Gang,” says Obama biographer David Maraniss.

“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,” he added.

While the administration has not prioritized prosecutions of marijuana users and small-scale distributors in states where it’s legal, it has not ceased prosecutions altogether. The Justice Department has continued raids on pot providers – including in states where they are legal – in an approach that experts say is more aggressive than Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

“I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law,” Obama told “Rolling Stone” in an interview earlier this year.

It “is a murky area,” Obama told the magazine, “where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, ‘This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.’ That’s not something we’re going to do.”

Obama and the Office of National Drug Control Policy say the negative impacts of widespread marijuana legalization loom large.

Legalization would lower the price of “weed,” thereby fueling its use and triggering more widespread negative health effects and subsequent costs of care, the administration says in its official policy position. Officials also say legalization would do little to curb drug violence or eliminate cartels.

“When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved in violence, people who are peddling hard drugs to our kids and our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt we need to go after those folks hard,” said Obama.

“It makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally,” he said. “There’s more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.”

More of Barbara Walters’ exclusive first joint, post-election interview with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama airs tonight on “20/20”at 10 p.m. ET on ABC stations.

Colorado and Washington are the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, presenting a fresh challenge for the Obama Justice Department to navigate in a second term.

While public opinion has shifted toward legalization over the past few years, Americans remain divided about the personal use of pot.

Fifty percent of American adults oppose legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while 48 percent would support such a measure, according to a November ABC News/Washington Post poll. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who personally opposed legalization, on Monday formally approved the voter-backed amendment to the state constitution legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

The measure will allow individuals to possess one ounce of pot and up to six marijuana plants and licensed stores to sell marijuana starting next year.

Washington State last week officially became the first to allow recreational use of marijuana when a voter-approved ballot measure took effect.

In both states, pot use remains illegal in public. Eighteen states have approved the use of marijuana for medicinal use with a doctor’s order. Federal law still prohibits all use and sale of marijuana.

– Article from ABC News.




  1. Bud on

    These nimrod politicians have to realize that cannabis use does not equate to substance abuse and in the vast majority of cases never does. Kinda like alcohol that way..although far far fewer issues and much safer. What is substance (as in substance abuse) anyway??

    If I like McDonald’s hamburgers too much, I guess I can see where that might be substance abuse as well. Watch-out fat bodies…they’re lining us up to be next! “Put the burger down…step away from the burger asshole!!”

    Cannabis can get you high, burgers can get you fat. Yeah I know, we like to eat when we’re high but still, if you could, which I’m sure you could for the sake of argument, ask yourself, which substance causes more health problems for the average “user”??

    Point being…if prohibition as a tool is not for or about health related issues, then what’s it really for people? hmmmmm… Sorry, not asking regular cannabis users, just those otherwise.

  2. Anonymous on

    To the guy who posted above me, you are a wacko. Go hide in your hole and do not come back out.

  3. Anonymous on

    Cannabis being legally available in small amounts is actually actually results in harm reduction because people will seek out some form of consciousness altering substance and Cannabis is the least harmful of all known psychoactive substances. If one person smokes Cannabis and lays down on the couch instead of drinking a 6 pack and getting behind the wheel then Cannabis legalization has served society well. Without legal Cannabis people will also use synthetic cannabinoids, which are much worse than real THC and cause serious physical addiction. Any lab can produce enough synthetic cannabinoids to supply the entire world. Since they can’t control the Chinese labs or the Internet, what’s the point in trying to control Cannabis? Since the invention and large scale production and sale of synthetic cannabinoids, the war on Cannabis has been a joke.

  4. Anonymouse on

    We all have heard discussions concerning the financial value of cannabis. Millions and billions of dollars to credited to cannabis trade in local and global economies. Cannabis is the most profitable cash crop in many nations except Afghanistan (opium).

    Cannabis funds the street gangs and cartels while benefitting the DEA (enforcement), financial institutions (laundering) and local economies (B.C. and the Emerald Triangle). Cannabis has become an integral part of the global economy. The financial global economy is currently like a house of cards. Could cannabis be one of many important cards sustaining the global economic recovery (cannabis is recession proof)? If this is true then legalization is a rather sticky situation (pun intended).

    Could a rapid legalization effort further weaken economic recovery? What aspect of a change in this illicit market would effect currency values, especially the U.S. Dollar? Legalization would cause a drastic drop in profit margins, to what effect will this have on the global economy?

    These are not generally topic for 98% of the people on the planet, but the other 2% are well aware of the illicit drug trade, especially cannabis, because they control the banks (laundering for a %). I think it may be a matter for the elite bankers and not governments. Can the 2% recoup losses and control from a transition to legal cannabis? If not would they allow it?

    Hmmm, still too many questions…

  5. Anonymouse on

    1. Time and time again I hear politicians wanting to protect the kids, well then it would better serve the welfare of the children by regulating the drug to control production and distribution. Why is it so difficult to see that prohibition is not working? The war on drugs is dismantling communities and destroying lives while doing very little to help kids make better choices.

    2. Reschedule cannabis as a schedule V drug. Why do we have to wait for the federal government to do the right thing and reschedule cannabis? – (lies, treaties, big pharma and healthcare providers). The level of hypocrisy concerning cannabis scheduling is embarrassing. Barrack, you can reschedule cannabis today with a swipe of your pen.

    3. Mr. President, I can see that you don’t want to be the guy that legalizes cannabis, I can see that. You stated that you made some mistakes in your youth – you don’t want to set an example for your children concerning drug use, I get it. But, you made a choice to consume cannabis. You may want to ignore this, but cannabis shaped your world view and changed you in a way that set you upon a path to become president. It is difficult, albeit impossible, to know what may have happened to you if you did not consume cannabis at that time in your life.

    The lingering effects of cannabis upon the expansion of consciousness, of an individual, is eternal. It cannot be forgotten nor disposed of simply because they stop using this beneficial plant. Regardless of what your peers may think, you are a positive example of what cannabis can do for so many others that choose to do so. Ultimately it is our choice, and having those choices sets us apart from so many others. Having the ability to make choices is a fundamental concept of liberty. You cannot continue to punish those that make the same choices you have made. You cannot continue to allow an overtly conservative policy to inhibit the liberties of the majority.

    4. It is not the responsibility of government to legislate morality. The only choice you have is to allow the prohibition of cannabis to fade away. The majority of Americans will not fault you if you do nothing as states take it upon themselves to regulate cannabis production and distribution. Allow the republic to make decisions concerning individual liberty in the privacy of their own homes. Don’t stand in the way of progress, allow cannabis reform to move forward.

  6. Anonymous on

    so i m from Latvia we need to get 10000 votes for Decriminalization. its not that i m some kinda a stoner i have an free opinion on it and i voted! Still 10000 votes wont change anything here because of the pharmacists, anyway it helps my hard migraine ^^
    4823 votes to go til getting up to our like congress ^^

  7. someguy425 on

    Obama also said that if he was elected in 2008 that he would put a stop to the DEA raids on medical marijuana shops in California, but that did not stop the DEA.

    The simple fact is the DEA doesn’t work for Obama, Obama works for the DEA, but he’ll never admit that. No president will ever admit that an agency like the DEA has more power than the WH. Such an admission would make the WH and the Federal government of the USA look really bad.

    So they continue to maintain the deception to save face and it takes every American citizen years of experience to figure out for themselves that they are liars.

  8. Anonymous UK on

    He only mentions users not being a priority. Are those ‘bigger fish’ the businesses that maybe set up to manufacture and supply marijuana in these states ? – I hope not. Maybe a step in the right direction but what is the thinking on businesses? After all they mostly leave medical users alone in California but persecute dispensaries and any one involved with them.

  9. azazel on

    isn’t this what he said ummmmmm 4 years ago?

  10. Anonymous on

    Get a life AV Green instead of cussing people. You are ignorant and worthless.

  11. Av Green on

    Stop being such chicken shits. I live in Michigan, and no one has ever raided any dispenseries. The same goes for the other 18 states. The only reason some dispenseries were raided in California is because some smart asses figured out a way how to run their drug dealing operations under the cover of medical mj law. 18 states later its PRETTY CLEAR that the White House is not going to stay in the way of the legalization movement/process. It is not going to assist us with it either, but at least they will not stay in the way. They have way too much to lose in terms of votes. They know that they’ll piss off too many people if they do. They do keep a close eye, and if they see illegal activities, DEA moves in quickly. As long as the state law is followed, no one will bother you, not even the Feds. Grow a brain, and open your eyes people, and please STOP BEING SO PARANOID!!!!! I mean, we’ve come such a long way, and you’re still being consperitorial, thanks to your low self esteem. Please keep in mind that MJ legalization supporters are the majority of both US and Canada. We are in the majority, you clueless fucks!

  12. Av Green on

    Shut up

  13. Anonymous on


  14. Brian Kerrr on


  15. Anonymous on

    “When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved in violence, people who are peddling hard drugs to our kids and our neighborhoods that are devastated”

    Because all eight year olds’ are heroin addicts. Ya just cant keep those 3rd graders from hitting the smack.

  16. Mrs. Ratsrectum on

    Great! D.C has finally realized it’s not just an Internet thing. It’s not limited to the Internet crowd, as was laughed off before. It’s entire states, and nothing says failure like 2 U.S. states legalizing.

    Now, just get House Bill 6606 passed into law, even if you have to have a Senate backup plan as a plan B in order to get the votes.

    The masses are primed for people to get out of prison. Do it in synchronization (Gleichschaltung) with the movie Les Miserables? Hype Les Miserables. Make this bill the law of the land. Stop putting people in jail and let people out of jail, but without the bloody revolution as in the movie. Propaganda and specialists of semiotics in public communication to manipulate the masses and orchestrate the outcomes they want will know what I am talking about.

    Free Marc Emery! Make it a priority, for everyone else’s sake, too.

    Oh, and I’ll curse if I want. Statistic get you only so far, and life an the streets can be tough, so consider yourself rich or priveliged to be able to use only statistics. I’m sick of getting hassled by The Man. I’m sick of Joe Biden and other prohibitionists, regardless of party. I want to express my disdain, my outrage. If you don’t like it, lump it.

  17. Dan peterson on

    Well said

  18. Tony Aroma on

    Aside from the fact that he is basically saying the same thing he’s been saying all along about medical mj, the president’s lying about this being something for the Legislative Branch to handle. Or he’s passing the buck. The DEA is Executive Branch, as is the Attorney General and Justice Department. The Controlled Substances Act grants power to schedule substances to the AG, who has delegated that power to the DEA. So in this unusual case, the Executive Branch both makes and enforces the law. Saying he has to wait for Congress to act is just not true.

    As far as I’m concerned, the president’s comments suggest things are going to continue on as they have been: saying they’ll only go after state law violators, and in reality continuing the raids and property forfeitures against anybody and everybody. But at least Obama will leave a legacy as the last, great drug warrior. Too bad he’ll end up being on the wrong side of history, much like the supporters of slavery prior to the Civil War.

  19. bb54 on

    The Hickenlooper paradoxe can be better undestood by reference to quantum photonics.A photon exists as a particle but also as a wave function.It cannot be both at the same time.Marihuana cannot be legal and illegal all at once.This is how then the Hickenlooper paradoxe permits to solve the impossibility.Temporal fluctuations caused by delta-9=THC
    will allow torsion of Schedule I particles into Schedule II particles thereby rendering the reality R possible.The Hickenlooper paradox was named after the well admired governor of Colorado approved marijuana for use but personnally was against it.