Obama Vows to Let States Lead the Way on Marijuana

The president said he has directed the Justice Department to look at how the federal government deals with non-violent drug offenders.

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 22: President Obama greets audience members after speaking at the University of Kansas at the Anschutz Pavillion on January 22, 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas.

Photographer: Jamie Squire

President Obama is not going to stand in the way of U.S. states that want to get high. 

In an interview Thursday with YouTube blogger Hank Green, Obama was asked about the growing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. 

"What you're seeing now is Colorado, Washington, through state referenda, they're experimenting with legal marijuana," Obama said. "The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we're not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue."

In the 2014 midterm elections, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia also legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 23 states now permit the drug to be prescribed for medical reasons. Obama said that he expected more states to consider following suit. 

"My suspicion is you're going to see other states start looking at this," the president said. 

The news for pot smokers in states where marijuana has not been legalized was also encouraging. 

"What I am doing at the federal level is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating non-violent drug offenders," Obama said, adding, "What we have done is, instead of focussing on treatment—the same way that we focussed, say, on tobacco, or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as a public health problem—we've treated this exclusively as a criminal problem, and I think that it's been counterproductive. And it's been devastating in a lot of minority communities." 

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