Ethan Nadelman, leader of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), is cautiously supportive of President Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that federal authorities will not go after marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, where voters supported referendums legalizing the practice. On December 11, Attorney General Eric Holder said in Boston that the administration’s new policy will be issued “relatively soon.”
Nadelman noted the president’s comment to Barbara Walters that he does not support legalization “at this point,” is language strikingly similar to Obama’s position on marriage equality three years ago. Nadelman added that much of Obama’s recent statement was not news. “Federal law enforcement officials have never prioritized going after users of marijuana. Obama has said much the same regarding medical consumers of marijuana, but that begs the question of whether consumers will be able to make their purchases from legal or only illegal sources.”
In response to a Peace and Justice Resource Center question, Nadelman said the president can unilaterally order the Justice Department to change specific priorities, but cannot direct US attorneys who pursue hardline repression policies. The president also can amend the federal Controlled Substances Act on his own, moving marijuana from Schedule 1 controlled substance, which denotes a “drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
A sharply worded letter from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) last week indicated Congressional interest as a result of the state referendums; Leahy asked, “What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?”
Federal timidity will be challenged further by legalization or decriminalization initiatives in Central and Latin American countries where the US Drug War has inflicted vast human suffering and violence with little return. Obama may be facing a pincer movement from legalization advocates north and south.