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Obama says going after marijuana 'not a top priority' (+video)

Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law even though voters in Colorado and Washington State recently approved ballot measures legalizing small amounts of pot for adults.

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Advocates of marijuana decriminalization say they’re encouraged by Obama’s comments this week.

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“This is a great start and an encouraging sign that the federal government doesn’t intend to ramp up its focus on individual users,” Erik Altieri, communications director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said on NORML’s website.

“Though considering it is extremely rare for the federal government to handle possession cases (only a few percent of annual arrests are conducted by the federal government), and that this is the same stance he took on medical cannabis before raiding more dispensaries than his predecessor, his administration’s broader policy will be the one to watch…,” Mr. Altieri said.

Joe Megyesy, a spokesman for Colorado’s marijuana legalization group, said Obama's comments were "good news" as far as they went, but left unanswered many questions about how regulation would work, reports the Associated Press.

Even if individual users aren't charged with crimes, marijuana producers and sellers could be subject to prosecution and civil forfeiture and other legal roadblocks. Marijuana is a crop that can't be insured, and federal drug law prevents banks from knowingly serving the industry, leaving it a cash-only business that's difficult to regulate.

"I'm wondering what sort of things are going to happen now on the civil side of things," Mr. Megyesy told the AP. "It seems like [Obama] was talking strictly about the criminal side, which is great, but doesn't answer the question of how the Department of Justice is going to respond to this."

It seems likely that Congress will take up the issue after the holiday break.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont says he plans to hold a session in the new Congress to examine how federal laws and enforcement square with new state laws legalizing pot, reports The Washington Post.

“One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law,” Senator Leahy wrote in a recent letter to Obama administration drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Over the years, public approval of marijuana legalization has steadily inched upward, reaching the 50 percent point in October, according to Gallup.

Still, many Americans agree with Obama’s comments about his own youthful experience seen in light of fatherhood.

“There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid,” Obama told Walters. “My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society.”

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