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House Republicans to Challenge Obama’s Mixed Signals on Marijuana

Mica scheduled a hearing about the White House's comments on the use of marijuana. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Mica scheduled a hearing about the White House's comments on the use of marijuana. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The same day President Barack Obama suggested to CNN’s Jake Tapper that revising the nation’s marijuana policies is a task for Congress, a House panel announced it would hold a hearing on the White House’s “mixed signals” on the drug.  

“The administration’s schizophrenic messaging and enforcement related to the commercial use of marijuana has left the states and law enforcement in a difficult and untenable position,” said Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., who is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations. “With the president’s recent remarks, we need to find out where the administration is heading.”  

Mica’s hearing, scheduled for Feb. 4, comes as more and more members of Congress are beginning to weigh in on the contentious issue.  

In the interview with Tapper that aired Friday, Obama said that it was Congress’ responsibility, not his own, to pave the way for reclassifying marijuana into a lower tier of narcotics — it is currently considered a “Schedule 1,” along with other illegal drugs such as heroin. He also reiterated comments he had made in a recent New Yorker article about the dangers of legalizing a drug that “for casual, individual users, is subject to abuse, like alcohol is.”  

Obama also caveated that current models for prosecuting marijuana users are troubling in that they eat up scarce law enforcement resources and tend to be “applied unevenly and in some cases with racial disparity.  

“I do offer a cautionary note. … We’re going to see what happens in the experiments in Colorado and Washington,” Obama continued, noting the two states where certain amounts of marijuana have recently been legalized. “Those who think legalization is a panacea, I think they have to ask themselves some tough questions, too, because if we start having a situation where big corporations with a lot of resources and distribution and marketing arms are suddenly going out there peddling marijuana, then the levels of abuse that might take place are going to be higher.”  

Members of Congress, meanwhile, aren’t the only ones noting Obama’s mixed signals on the issue.  

“It’s very unfortunate that President Obama appears to want to pass the buck to Congress when it comes to marijuana laws, especially when his State of the Union speech this week focused on actions he can take to move America forward without having to wait for the legislative branch to get its act together,” said Tom Angell, president of Marijuana Majority.  

Under Obama, the Justice Department has decided not to enforce the marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington for now, even as his White House website continues to have a fact sheet opposing the legalization of marijuana, including for medical use.

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