This will no doubt please libertarians — and former members of the Choom Gang:
President Barack Obama says federal authorities should not target recreational marijuana use in two Western states that voted to make it legal, given limited government resources and growing public acceptance of the controlled substance.
Obama’s first comments on the issue come weeks after Washington state and Colorado voters supported legalizing cannabis last month in ballot measures that stand in direct opposition of federal law.
“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,” he told ABC News in part of an interview released on Friday.
“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,” Obama said.
Marijuana remains an illegal drug under U.S. federal law, but Washington and Colorado on November 6 became the first states in the nation to make it legal for individuals to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for private use.
The Department of Justice has maintained that pot remains a federally controlled substance, and states have been looking for guidance from federal authorities on how they will handle the conflict with state laws.
Obama’s comments do not mean that Justice Department officials have completed their review of the Colorado and Washington laws, a department spokeswoman said on Friday.
Asked whether Drug Enforcement Administration agents were arresting people for possessing pot in Colorado and Washington, spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said that the “DEA’s focus has always been to disrupt and dismantle large-scale drug trafficking organization – not to arrest individual users.”
Medical use of marijuana is legal in 18 U.S. states. But federal officials have still continued to crack down on some providers in those states.
The medical literature on marijuana is decidedly mixed as far as identifying risks to one’s health. Is it more or less dangerous than alcohol? Both drugs have benefits when taken in moderation, just as both drugs have harmful effects if used heavily. There appears to be a link between marijuana and the abuse of other, harder drugs, although other studies don’t show pot as a “gateway drug.”
Like alcohol, smoking pot and driving can be hazardous. There are also about 50% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons found in marijuana than in cigarettes. And the Above the Influence website points out:
A number of studies have also shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
There is nothing harmless about this drug. It can be psychologically addictive to certain personality types and robs the heavy user of optimal brain function. Why we want to legalize this drug for “recreational” use says more about our society and how pot smoking has penetrated our collective cultural consciousness than it does about wise public policy.
But having examined the detrimental effects of pot, enforcement of current law is an entirely different matter. Citizens caught with small amounts of pot clog our court system, delaying justice for many. Perhaps decriminalizing pot use is more to the point if the goal is to speed up the courts and apply drug fighting resources to more pressing problems like meth labs or cocaine. That way, the government still makes a statement that pot use is illegal while removing roadblocks to more effective drug policy.
President Obama is right about directing government resources to more pressing drug problems by not going after recreational users in Washington state or Colorado. But eventually, we are going to have to decide once and for all if getting stoned is no worse than being drunk and adjust our laws accordingly.