SEATTLE — Backers of new laws that legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado were cautiously optimistic after President Barack Obama said Uncle Sam wouldn’t pursue pot users in those states.
Following the November votes in Washington and Colorado the Justice Department reiterated that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but had been vague about what its specific response would be.
In a Barbara Walters interview airing Friday on ABC, President Barack Obama said: “It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view” to focus on drug use in states where it is now legal.
Marijuana activists were relieved at Obama’s comments, but still had questions about how regulation will work. They said even if individual users aren’t charged with crimes, marijuana producers and sellers could be subject to prosecution, civil forfeiture and other legal roadblocks.
And the president didn’t specifically address how the federal government would respond to state officials in Washington and Colorado, who under the new laws are now tasked with coming up with regulations for commercial pot sales.
Obama simply told Walters that going after “recreational users” would not be a “top priority.”
“There’s some signal of hope,” Alison Holcomb, who led Washington’s legalization drive, said of Obama’s statements. “I think it’s correct that we ultimately we need a legislative resolution.”
But Tom Angell of the group Marijuana Majority said Obama’s comment don’t add anything new. He said the federal government rarely goes after users and Obama can do more besides passing the responsibility to Congress. Angell said Obama can use executive power to reclassify marijuana as a legal drug.