Pot back­ers hope­ful af­ter Obama re­marks

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Kristin Wy­att

SEAT­TLE — Back­ers of new laws that le­gal­ized mar­i­juana in Washington and Colorado were cau­tiously op­ti­mistic af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Un­cle Sam wouldn’t pur­sue pot users in those states.

Af­ter the Novem­ber votes in Washington and Colorado, the Jus­tice De­part­ment re­it­er­ated that mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law, but had been vague about what its spe­cific re­sponse would be.

In a Bar­bara Wal­ters in­ter­view on ABC, Obama said: “It does not make sense from a pri­or­i­ti­za­tion point of view” to fo­cus on drug use in states where it is now le­gal.

Mar­i­juana ac­tivists were re­lieved at Obama’s com­ments but still had ques­tions about how reg­u­la­tion will work. They said even if in­di­vid­ual users aren’t charged with crimes, mar­i­juana pro­duc­ers and sellers could be sub­ject to pros­e­cu­tion, civil for­fei­ture and other le­gal road­blocks.

And the pres­i­dent didn’t specif­i­cally ad­dress how the fed­eral government would re­spond to state of­fi­cials in Washington and Colorado, who un­der the new laws are now tasked with coming up with reg­u­la­tions for com­mer­cial pot sales.

Obama sim­ply told Wal­ters that go­ing af­ter “recre­ational users” would not be a “top pri­or­ity.”

“There’s some sig­nal of hope,” Ali­son Hol­comb, who led Washington’s le­gal­iza­tion drive, said of Obama’s state­ments. “I think it’s cor­rect that we ul­ti­mately need a leg­isla­tive res­o­lu­tion.”

But Tom An­gell of the group Mar­i­juana Ma­jor­ity said Obama’s com­ment don’t add any­thing new. He said the fed­eral government rarely goes af­ter users and Obama can do more be­sides pass­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity to Congress. An­gell said Obama can use ex­ec­u­tive power to re­clas­sify mar­i­juana as a le­gal drug.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors haven’t tar­geted users in the 18 states and Washington, D.C., that al­low peo­ple to use mar­i­juana for med­i­cal rea­sons.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said Obama’s state­ments weren’t de­fin­i­tive but were en­cour­ag­ing.

“I think the pres­i­dent’s com­ments are a good sign that the fed­eral government might be will­ing to work with our state as we work to de­velop a new reg­u­la­tory model for mar­i­juana,” she said. “There is a con­flict be­tween fed­eral law and state law on this is­sue, we need to con­tinue to work through that.”

Le­gal­iza­tion ac­tivists in Colorado tried and failed to get the pres­i­dent to take a stand on the mar­i­juana mea­sure on his many cam­paign trips to the bat­tle­ground state.

“It was frus­trat­ing,” said Joe Me­gyesy, a spokesman for Colorado mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion group.

“Here’s the pres­i­dent, an ad­mit­ted mar­i­juana user in his youth, who’s pre­vi­ously shown strong sup­port for this, and then he didn’t want to touch it be­cause it was such a close race.”

Me­gyesy said Obama’s com­ments were “good news,” but left unan­swered many ques­tions about how mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tion will work. Even if in­di­vid­ual users aren’t charged with crimes, mar­i­juana pro­duc­ers and sellers could be sub­ject to pros­e­cu­tion and civil for­fei­ture and other le­gal road­blocks. Mar­i­juana is a crop that can’t be in­sured, and fed­eral drug law pre­vents banks from know­ingly serv­ing the in­dus­try, leav­ing it a cashonly busi­ness that’s dif­fi­cult to reg­u­late.

Pos­ses­sion of up to an ounce of mar­i­juana is now le­gal for adults over 21 in both Washington and Colorado.

Washington’s Liquor Con­trol Board, which has been reg­u­lat­ing al­co­hol for 78 years, now has a year to adopt rules for the fledg­ling pot in­dus­try.

Colorado’s mar­i­juana mea­sure re­quires law­mak­ers to al­low com­mer­cial pot sales, and a state task force that will be­gin writ­ing those reg­u­la­tions meets Mon­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.