Obama Takes Baby Steps on Marijuana

The Obama administration won't challenge Colorado's or Washington's marijuana laws. (Thinkstock)
The Obama administration won't challenge Colorado's or Washington's marijuana laws. (Thinkstock)

(The Root) — Although polls show that the majority of Americans have evolved on the issue of marijuana and now support legalization, the Obama administration so far has not demonstrated a similar evolution.


As noted previously on The Root, a White House spokesman recently said the president does not support changes to marijuana laws "at this point." To those of us concerned about inequity in the criminal-justice system, this wavering was cause for concern. African Americans are more likely to face arrests for marijuana possession even though whites and blacks are equal users, statistically speaking. 

But on Thursday, the administration did demonstrate evolution on the issue. While not embracing full-fledged legalization, the Justice Department has announced in a memo that the federal government will not challenge laws in Colorado and Washington permitting recreational use of marijuana or pursue those who sell or use cannabis in those states. According to the Los Angeles Times, Attorney General Eric Holder re-emphasized the message in personal phone calls to the governors of both states.


Though perhaps seen as baby steps on this issue, the move has drawn praise from marijuana-legalization proponents. But from observers outside the legalization movement, the move will likely draw comparisons to the president's early baby steps on another social issue that was once considered controversial: gay marriage.

Before making history as the first sitting U.S. president to embrace same-sex marriage, Obama announced a series of similarly small but significant steps, such as support for civil unions, that seemed to test where the American public stood on the issue. Only then did he finally announce his full-fledged support for equal marriage. It remains to be seen if he will eventually demonstrate a similar evolution on marijuana policy. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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