President Obama spoke to Barbara Walters for the first time about how the federal government will handle Colorado and Washington’s new legal weed laws—and it sounds like the feds will leave the states alone and let them have their fun.
The new laws legalizing marijuana set up a unique stand-off between between the states and the federal government—the states say pot is legal, the federal government says it’s illegal, so its status becomes a matter of how actively the federal government chooses to enforce it. If the Obama administration wanted to send federal agents into the states to bust everyone buying a dime-bag they could, and the legalization would be moot. But though the Department of Justice released an ambiguous statement last week reiterating that pot is still illegal nationally, Obama indicated in the new interview that the federal government will look the other way and allow it to be legal in practice in those states.
“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,” Obama said. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
What’s more, when asked whether he supported widespread marijuana legalization, he didn’t say “no,” he said “not at this point.” He continued, “This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law.” Not yet. Notice he didn’t say the law shouldn’t be changed, he just noted it hasn’t been changed yet.
It sounds like Obama’s stance here allows for things to change and evolve. You might remember that his position on same-sex marriage did a lot of “evolving” as well before he came forward as an advocate. It’s still too early to tell, but in his second term Obama could evolve to join Jimmy Carter in advocating the biggest decriminalization effort since prohibition was lifted.
The Barbara Walters interview airs tonight on “20/20.”