Since I-502 was resoundingly passed by Washington voters in November, legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults in our state, many have been waiting with bated breath to see how the federal government would react. The scene has been similar in Colorado, where voter also legalized marijuana possession for adults last month.
Statements made by President Obama in an ABC News interview set to air Friday on the subject suggest cracking down on recreational pot users in Washington and Colorado won't be a top priority for his administration and the Department of Justice under his direction. According to accounts of the Obama interview, the Commander-in-Chief says the feds have, "bigger fish to fry."
But what exactly that means - or will mean when it's all said and done - is still open to debate.
Obama made explicit in an interview to air Friday on ABC News that prosecution of marijuana users in the two states would be placed low on his Justice Department's list of law enforcement priorities, but that certain issues must still be ironed out as more states could pass similar legislation.
"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?'"
Indeed, a conversation is just one of the things needed when it comes to reaching common ground on weed.
For those looking for "Hope" on the subject, it's interesting Obama chose to say, "This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law." Does this suggest Obama believes Congress will enact such a change at some point? And, of far more importance, if he does believe Congress will eventually change federal marijuana policy, is this something he's willing to push for under his watch, or merely something he predicts will happen down the road ... like, say, in 2050 when we're all driving flying Jetsons cars?
Based on Obama's track record, it's likely the latter.
The other issue raised in Obama's comments on weed is the question of priorities and what they mean. Certainly, it seems safe to conclude the feds will not start busting dudes with $20 sacks taking bong hits in the comfort of their own home. Such actions will not be a "top priority" of the Justice Department. That's a positive - and fairly predictable - development. But busting recreational, small-time pot users has never really been a priority of the feds - they go after the big fish, to borrow from own Obama's rhetoric.
The real question is - and has always been - what will the Obama administration do about those producing and selling the weed, be it medical marijuana dispensaries, cooperative grows, those inevitably looking to cash in on marijuana's newfound legality, and - most important of all, at least here - the state itself once I-502 is at full strength and Washington officially gets into the weed business?
Obama's comments today, while sound bite worthy and at least topically hopeful, provide no clarity on this front.