Obama Has "Bigger Fish to Fry" Than Pot Smokers

By McCarton Ackerman 12/14/12

The President still opposes marijuana legalization, but is less inclined than ever to prosecute users.

Not so bothered about prosecuting potheads
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It's a small but significant shift: in an interview with Barbara Walters that airs tonight on 20/20, President Barack Obama speaks publicly for the first time about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, and says that prosecuting recreational pot users in those states won't be "a top priority" for federal law enforcement officials. "We've got bigger fish to fry," he says. "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined it's legal." And while the President remains opposed to marijuana legalization due to a desire to "discourage drug use," he says that limited government resources and shifting public opinion leave him open to compromise on pot-use punishments. "This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," he says. "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?" Obama notes that issues including the impact of drug use on young people and treaty obligations with other countries will need to be considered. But he's already asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to examine the legal issues surrounding conflicting state and federal laws. Despite his opposition to legalization, Obama is no stranger to marijuana; he admitted in his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, that he would smoke it regularly with his high school buddies.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.