Proponents for marijuana legalization have had a lot to celebrate over the past few years. Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Washington, DC have all passed laws to fully legalize weed, and many key states, like California and New York, now have laws permitting the use of medical cannabis.

But are things changing on a national level? Unfortunately, the answer is not really.

A Crackdown on Weed

Even though Barack Obama himself admitted to using cannabis while in college, the Obama Administration strictly enforced federal marijuana laws during the president’s first 4 years in office. Obama’s first term saw more raids on suspected marijuana sellers and dispensaries than there had been under the Bush administration, dashing the hopes of weed advocates, who had thought that perhaps the change in leadership would lead to a new approach.

Things Are Changing… But Slowly

Obama’s second term did bring some small changes to the way the administration addressed marijuana. In an interview in 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he was open to the idea of reclassifying marijuana as an illegal drug, but ultimately said it was up to Congress to decide. Earlier this year, when Obama shortened the sentences of 46 felons in federal prisons, three of those involved were in jail for marijuana-related violations:

  • Jerome Wayne Johnson who was sentenced to 5 years in jail and 5 years of probation for having 1000 marijuana plants in his possession
  • Bart Stover who was sentenced to 20 years in jail and 10 years of probation for selling marijuana and cocaine
  • John M. Wyatt of Las Cruces who was sentenced to more than 21 years in jail and 7 years probation for selling weed

An Unchanging Stance

Although Obama has talked about ending mandatory minimum sentencing, which would likely benefit those convicted of marijuana use, the administration hasn’t changed their overall stance on pot. In a reply to a letter penned by the editor of High Times magazine, Dan Skye, a White House representative stated that marijuana use poses health risks, and that is why New York medical marijuana use is allowed only in edible form or vaporized by a vape pen. As the health risks contributes to social problems, and that the White House has no plans to push for legalization. Put simply, the Obama Administration wants to decriminalize, but not legalize the drug.

The Way Forward

So what’s the future of cannabis in the United States? Based on the tax revenue that legal weed has brought to Colorado, it’s likely that more states will be open to legalization in the near future. Change at the national level is likely to occur much more slowly; however, those who support legalization can help the process by continually making their opinions known to their state and federal representatives.


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