President Barack Obama doesn’t favor changing marijuana laws “at this point” but he also believes that federal law enforcement resources should not be focused on individual users, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.
Earnest was asked for a second day if the White House might re-examine its hard line on marijuana after Dr. Sanjay Gupta — the CNN health reporter who Obama once eyed for the surgeon general post — penned a column explaining why he changed his mind on the benefits of marijuana. He also apologized for his earlier reporting on the issue.
Earnest pointed to an Obama interview last year in which he said individuals should not be the focus of federal resources.
“The president acknowledged that, the priority here — the priority in terms of the dedication of law enforcement resources should be targeted toward our drug kingpins, drug traffickers and others who perpetrate violence in the conduct of the drug trade, that that is the best use of our law enforcement resources. ... At the same time, the president does not — you know, at this point, advocate a change in the law.”
The government still has to decide how to deal with legalization laws in Washington and Colorado — and Obama has come under fire from legalization advocates. Polls have shown significant increase in support for legalization during Obama’s presidency.
The question by CNN’s Jessica Yellin also generated some humor at the briefing. After Earnest joked that his answer would generate traffic on Twitter, she offered to bring him some Doritos.
CQ Roll Call posed a similar question to Earnest on Tuesday, but the spokesman indicated he could not comment at the time because he had not seen the Gupta column.
Marijuana legalization advocates were predictably disappointed.
“The White House’s statement that the president doesn’t think it’s a good use of resources to go after individual marijuana users is virtually meaningless,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement. “It has never been a federal priority to go after users. The real question is if the president wants to allow the voter-approved systems for regulated marijuana sales to be implemented or if he wants to intervene and force those users to keep buying marijuana on the black market from violent drug cartels and gangs. Pew, Gallup and other polls show that a super-majority of voters wants the president to follow through on his 2008 pledge to respect state marijuana laws, and that’s exactly what he should do.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.