DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Of the pressing policy questions facing the White House this week — Syria, the National Security Agency, Egypt — it was another that administration officials feared would create the biggest buzz.
“Given the reported medical benefits of marijuana, does the president believe the government should reconsider?” a CNN correspondent asked about the federally banned substance during the White House briefing Wednesday.
No, spokesman Josh Earnest answered, President Barack Obama isn’t high on such a change “at this point.” With a chuckle, he added: “I have the sneaking suspicion that this is going to draw me all kinds of traffic on Twitter.”
The issue may seem superfluous, but consider this: Since Obama took office in 2009, questions about whether he would support legalizing marijuana — for medical or recreational use — have been among the most popular among the public. He has been asked at town-hall meetings, in online petitions on the White House’s website, and in an interview with ABC News’s Barbara Walters in December.
“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,” Obama told Walters a month after voters in Colorado and Washington supported initiatives to legalize marijuana, even though it remains illegal under federal statutes.
When the White House created an online petition program called “We the People” in 2011, marijuana-related petitions were so popular that the administration issued four separate responses to 13 petitions with hundreds of thousands of total signatories.
But for all the public pressure, legalization advocates said the president has disappointed them. Though candidate Obama spoke convincingly about his open-mindedness on the issue in 2008, they said, President Obama has largely failed to rein in a Justice Department accused of running roughshod over state-approved medical marijuana clinics during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Under Obama, the advocates said, federal enforcement has increased. In a June study, Americans for Safe Access asserted that the Drug Enforcement Administration raided 270 medical marijuana clinics in 4 1/2 years, compared with 260 during Bush’s eight years. The report also concluded that the Obama administration has spent nearly $300 million on enforcement, $100 million more than the Bush administration.