Obama isn’t high on changing federal marijuana laws

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 21, 2013 

US NEWS RETAILPOT 2 LA

Loren Brazel stands behind a counter with differing types of medical marijuana at the Avalon Wellness Center in Long Beach, California

GENARO MOLINA — Los Angeles Times/MCT

— President Barack Obama doesn’t support changing federal laws to legalize marijuana, though a prominent physician he once was said to want as his surgeon general says the drug has "very legitimate medical applications."

White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that although Obama thinks that “targeting individual marijuana users . . . is not the best allocation for federal law enforcement resources,” he doesn’t “at this point advocate a change in the law.”

Under federal law, all pot sales are illegal, with marijuana classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, in the same category as heroin and LSD. The administration’s stance on legalization is being viewed closely by advocacy groups and in the states of Washington and Colorado, each of which voted last November to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Pot advocates say it will be impossible for the states to tax and sell the drug next year if the U.S. government doesn’t give them a pass on violating federal laws.

Earnest’s remarks came as reporters asked him about a reversal by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, who once was considered a candidate for surgeon general. Gupta wrote on CNN’s website two weeks ago that he’s "come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana."

Earnest said the administration’s position "has been clear and consistent for some time now that while the prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority, the president and the administration believe that targeting individual marijuana users, especially those with serious illnesses and their caregivers, is not the best allocation for federal law enforcement resources."

He said Obama thinks that law enforcement should prioritize “drug kingpins, drug traffickers and others who perpetrate violence in the conduct of the drug trade.”

Earnest said the president had last talked about the issue in an interview with Barbara Walters in December. At that time, Obama noted that the two states had legalized marijuana and that "it does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users" in such states.

Earnest said he didn’t know whether the president would be willing to take steps to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana’s medical benefits, but he joked that discussing legalization during the daily White House news briefing was likely to gain plenty of attention.

"For some reason, I have the sneaking suspicion that this is going to draw me all kinds of traffic on Twitter," Earnest said, to laughter.

Email: lclark@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark

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