Despite the November approval of initiatives in Washington and Colorado, marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. And senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering legal action against the states, according to the New York Times.
While it would be within the law for the federal government to step over these new state laws, following the Justice Department and doing so would be a bad move for the Obama administration.
A record high 58% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling. Last year, Gallup reported 50% approval. Support is highest among liberals and young people. It’s important to note that the higher rate among young people is believed to be a generational effect, with more and more people approving over time, rather than a cohort effect, with people in successive generations approving when they’re young and then becoming more conservative with age.
This progression of public opinion is a good indication that the battle for marijuana legalization will be won sooner or later, as the opposition dwindles. It would behoove the president to stay on the winning team on this one.
As for the higher rate of approval among liberals, they just mobilized to reelect the president. The Times quoted University of Texas at Austin political science professor Bruce Buchanan as saying that aggressive action against the state initiatives would be “a slap in the face to [Obama's] base right after they’ve just handed him a chance to realize his presidential dreams.”
Of the issues that need federal attention during the president’s second term: financial recovery, reproductive rights and equal pay for women, gay rights, immigration reform, to name a few, prosecuting marijuana cases that are legal under state laws rates pretty low on the list.
Making this a priority would not only piss off the social liberals who are largely in favor of legalizing marijuana, but also conservatives who believe that the federal government intrudes in state issues too often. It would be lose-lose.