“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said of marijuana smokers in Colorado and Washington, the two states where recreational use is now legal.What is important here is what Mr. Obama doesn't say. By simply stating that the feds are not going to go after recreational users--something that they have never really done, anyway--he leaves more than ample wiggle-room for the DoJ to obstruct the implementation of state regimes to regulate the distribution and sale of marijuana in Washington and Colorado. I would be very surprised if they did not do so.
“It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal,” he said.
But even if Holder and company decline to fight that battle in the court, there is nothing in the president's statement that precludes going after anyone who attempts to open shop under state law on federal distribution charges. Indeed, this administration's aggressive stance on medical marijuana dispensaries suggests that this is exactly what they will do.
If I were a Machiavellian-minded drug warrior with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of the drug war, this is exactly the course I would chart. The very real threat that drug warriors face right now is a shift in momentum against their highly lucrative enterprise. The absolute worst thing that could happen, from their perspective, is for a legal market in marijuana to flourish in the U.S. with little to no impact on overall use or crime rates, or even a drop in crime as the black market contracts.
If you render implementation of that legal market impossible, you perpetuate the criminal enterprise of distribution. You keep the criminal drug dealers in business. And if demand does go up as recreational users get comfortable with the idea they are unlikely to face sanctions, there is a good chance that crime ancillary to the (still illicit) trade will go up.
Then you get to say that legalizing pot increased crime, and you have the perfect argument to roll back reform.
This is a long way from over.