President Barack Obama broke the silence late last week on how the federal government will respond to voter-approved measures in Washington and Colorado that legalized adult recreational use of marijuana.
The president said it is not a priority of the federal government to prosecute recreational marijuana use in the two states.
Perhaps more importantly, the president acknowledged it’s time for Congress, the Justice Department and others to tackle the question of how to reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana possession is a federal offense with state laws that say it isn’t.
While the president does not support legalized marijuana, that shouldn’t stop him from also working with Congress to amend the Controlled Substance Act, which lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, in the same company with heroin, LSD and morphine.
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The president’s comments should come as relief to state officials who have started work on a marijuana production and sales program as allowed by passage of Initiative 502. For instance, without some assurance of a hands-off policy by the federal government, employees of the state Liquor Control Board – tasked with establishing the rules for recreational marijuana in this state – would be working under the threat of federal prosecution.
The president’s message also is welcoming news for marijuana users whose activities are legal under state law, but illegal under federal law.
Marijuana use remains a controversial and complex topic. But at least the president has recognized what a waste of time it is for federal agents to arrest and prosecute recreational marijuana users.