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Will Public Opinion Force Washington's Hand on Pot?

Obama, along with predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has acknowledged using marijuana in his younger days. He remains coy about his policy intentions. But in an interview with Barbara Walters, broadcast in December, the president replied that the administration “has “got bigger fish to fry” than strictly enforcing federal marijuana laws.

“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.

Now some members of Congress are looking to get involved. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have joined forces on a pair of bills. One would shift responsibility for marijuana regulation to the individual states and create a framework for federal taxation in places where it is legalized. The second would remove the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority over marijuana and allow states to choose whether to allow marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

“This legislation doesn't force any state to legalize marijuana but Colorado and the 18 other jurisdictions that have chosen to allow marijuana for medical or recreational use deserve the certainty of knowing that federal agents won’t raid state-legal businesses,” Polis said. “Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on the failed drug war.”

Blumenauer noted that there has been a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape.

“Public attitude, state law and established practices are all creating irreconcilable difficulties for public officials at every level of government,” he said. “We want the federal government to be a responsible partner with the rest of the universe of marijuana interests while we address what federal policy should be regarding drug taxation, classification and legality.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who sought the Republican nomination for president in 2012 before dropping out and running on the Libertarian Party ticket, has long advocated marijuana legalization, arguing that it is “insane to arrest roughly 800,000 people a year for choosing to use a natural substance that is, by any reasonable objective standard, less harmful than alcohol, a drug that is advertised at every major sporting event.”

“By managing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco – regulating, taxing and enforcing its lawful use – America will be better off,” Johnson said. “The billions saved on marijuana interdiction, along with the billions captured as legal revenue, can be redirected against the individuals committing real crimes against society.”