Pot proponents hopeful, wary after Obama comments

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm •  Published: December 14, 2012
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SEATTLE (AP) — Officials and pot advocates looking for any sign of whether the Obama administration will sue to block legal pot laws in Washington state and Colorado or stand idly by as they are implemented got one from the president himself.

But it did little to clear the air.

While they welcomed President Barack Obama's comments that catching pot users was a low priority for his administration, they said it didn't answer a bigger question: Will federal prosecutors and drug agents also look the other way?

Pot advocates say they are leery since previous statements from the administration that it wouldn't go after individual medical marijuana users was followed by crackdowns on dispensaries and others who grew and sold the pot.

"There's some signal of hope," said Alison Holcomb, who led Washington's legalization drive, but added that it will take more than the president to clarify the issues around legal pot. "We ultimately need a legislative resolution."

In an interview with Barbara Walters scheduled to air on ABC on Friday, Obama said that going after "recreational users" would not be a "top priority" in the two states, where voters legalized pot use in November.

In his comments, the president didn't specifically address how the federal government would respond to state officials in Washington and Colorado, who are beginning work on regulations for commercial pot sales.

Under the laws, possession of up to an ounce of pot is legal for adults over 21.

The Justice Department has declined to say whether it would file a lawsuit to block the laws, but has said marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Tom Angell of the group Marijuana Majority said Obama's comment didn't add anything new. He said the federal government rarely goes after users and the president can do more besides passing the responsibility to Congress.

Angell said Obama can use executive power to reclassify pot 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. However, federal agents have still cracked down on dozens of dispensaries in some of those states.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said Obama's statements weren't definitive but could be a sign that the federal government might be willing to work with the states to develop a new regulatory model for marijuana.