Obama: Busting pot smokers not a "top priority" for the feds


Smokers celebrate the state's medical marijuana laws in Denver, Colorado on April 20, 2012 and collectively light up at 4:20 pm. On Nov. 6, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana with the passing of Amendment 64.


Marc Piscotty

President Barack Obama said the federal government would not make busting pot smokers a "top priority" in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug. 

"We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama told ABC News' Barbara Walters. "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."

Last month, voters in Washington and Colorado became the first to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults in their states. Marijuana use and possession remains illegal under federal law and there were some concerns that the federal government would prosecute drug users in those states. 

The administration already chooses to not prosecute individual users in the 18 states that have legalized medical marijuana but has gone after growers and suppliers of the drug. 

Marijuana remains classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are criminal acts, reports ABC News. Marijuana, or cannabis, is in the same drug category as heroin, LSD and "Ecstasy," all deemed to have high potential for abuse.

NBC News reports that most Americans are also softening their opinion on the drug and agree with the administration's stance. A new Gallup poll shows that 64 percent of Americans are against the federal government intervening in states where marijuana is legal. 

President Obama has been open and candid about his past drug use as a teen, including discussing his high school group of friends who called themselves the 'Choom Gang'. 

"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," he told Walters. "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society."

President Obama may not want to make pot a top priority in the drug war but Congress has indicated it wants more clarity on the federal government's position. 

According to NBC News, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. wants the Obama administration’s drug czar and former Seattle police chief, R. Gil Kerlikowske, to clarify some of the legal grey areas between state and federal drug laws. Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to hold a hearing on the subject at the beginning of next year.