Obama Administration Still Opposed to Marijuana Legalization, Biden Says

Vice President Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden makes a statement to the press in this July 2013 file photo. |

Vice President Joe Biden emphasized that, despite recent remarks by President Barack Obama appearing to soften on the marijuana issue, the administration still opposes legalization.

"Our policy for our Administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy," Biden told Time Magazine on Thursday, following similar remarks by Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Michael Botticelli on Tuesday. He did admit, however, that the administration intends to soften its enforcement of the issue. "I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources," Biden said.

Biden's remarks clarify President Obama's declaration last month that "it's important" for pot legalization in Colorado and Washington to go forward and that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. In light of these comments, Representative John Mica (R-Fla.) declared, "We have the most schizophrenic policy I have ever seen."

In the Senate, Biden led the Democratic Party's war on crime, authoring or co-sponsoring legislation that created the federal "drug czar" and mandatory minimum sentencing for pot, including sentencing for cocaine. "I am not only the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar, but I'm also the guy who spent years when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of [the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] trying to change drug policy relative to cocaine," Biden told Time.

"As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," Obama told The New Yorker. After declaring "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol," the president refused to answer whether he considers it less dangerous.

While Obama discouraged marijuana use, he also emphasized concerns about the negative effects marijuana enforcement has on minority communities. "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," the president explained. "African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties."

"We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing," Obama admitted.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that new rules loosening restrictions on banks from working with pot dealers would likely emerge "very soon." Since banks fall under federal jurisdiction, even though marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington State, they cannot work with pot dealers. As a result, marijuana establishments in these states perform transactions in cash only.

"Huge amounts of cash – substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective," Holder explained. While he mentioned new "regulations" being prepared, a Justice Department spokesman later clarified that he was referring to legal "guidance" for prosecutors and federal law enforcement. Holder did not specify whether the rules would also apply in states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

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