February 1, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: The Choom Corp.: Obama raises a strange objection to pot legalization.

In November 2012 voters in two of those states, Colorado and Washington, approved ballot initiatives formally legalizing recreational marijuana. (We say “formally” because in at least some medical-marijuana states, the stuff is already easy enough to get that the limitation to “medical” use is something of a fig leaf.) The Colorado measure took effect this Jan. 1, the Washington one a month earlier.

Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, so that in theory anyone who grows, sells, uses or possesses pot can still be prosecuted by the feds. That led to a landmark 2005 Supreme Court case, Gonzales v. Raich, in which the justices held 6-3 that federal enforcement of the ban on marijuana cultivation is a legitimate exercise of Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce, even when the defendant is growing the stuff for noncommercial use within the state and in compliance with state law. (We guess they do call it the high court for nothing.)

“What is and isn’t a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress,” President Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired today and is reported at Time.com. Obama disclaimed any view as to whether the law should change. But in practice he and his attorney general have adopted a far more permissive attitude than prevailed under the previous administration. . . .

A cynic would say Obama is trying to have it both ways, as with same-sex marriage, which he favored early in his career, then said he opposed when he became a national figure, then favored when the political winds had shifted to the extent that it was politically beneficial, or perhaps necessary, for him to do so.

The cynics are usually right. But read on for Obama’s big fear, and why it’s silly.