President Barack Obama has indicated that he won’t target marijuana users in states that have legalized the drug, stoking optimism in the cannabis community. But he stopped short of giving the all-clear to retail marijuana stores, commenting only on recreational users rather than businesses.
In an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News, Obama said said that cracking down on individual users in Colorado and Washington is not a top priority for the government and that the country has “bigger fish to fry.” The president added that – although he does not support widespread marijuana legalization at this time – it is important for the government to find a middle ground with states that have approved cannabis use.
Talk about an early Christmas present. Short of the president fully jumping on board with legalization, the statements represent a best-case scenario at this time.
“This is wonderful news,” said Robert J. Corry, an attorney in Colorado who handles marijuana cases. “It’s certainly an appropriate response, and an overwhelmingly positive one. My take all along has been that Obama would do the right thing and back off. I never took this doom and gloom view that the feds would come after everyone. Having said that, though, obviously caution is always a good idea.”
The president’s comments – his first on the issue – ease fears that the government will challenge new marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington. They also suggest that Obama is committed to working with states that have legalized marijuana rather than fighting them at every turn.
But it’s still unclear how the federal government will treat the business aspects of the new laws. Colorado and Washington both approved retail marijuana stores and are now developing a regulatory framework for the business side of the industry. The federal government could have some heavy input in the process.
However, it seems less likely now that the government will file lawsuits to block legalization and try to prevent retail stores from opening, although that’s still a possibility.
“I think this gives us the go-ahead to do business here in Colorado,” Corry said. “I think it opens the door because his comments were couched in terms of priorities and use of resources from the federal government. I think that applies across the board, including users, growers and sellers. That’s a reasonable interpretation and I’m going to rely on it.”
Others think that the government is likely waiting to see how some of this plays out before commenting on the business side of the equation .
“I think this is an encouraging and positive sign that the feds will not take an aggressively negative posture on this,” said David Kerr, a marijuana attorney at Advokat Law Group in Seattle. “But Washington is just now moving forward with the rule-making process, and so on the business side we need a better definition about how this will be implemented before the feds respond.”