Federal Government’s Stance on Cannabis

Our unclear federal stance on medical cannabis, and recreational cannabis as a whole, is a result of very intricate webs of inner politics, much of which yield contradictory and conflicting laws & guidelines. Nonetheless, big gains are being made on what now seems like a daily basis.

Firstly, on December 16th, 2014 President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law, which included provisions limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their respective states (1). A similar statement was made verbally by the Obama administration prior to the spending bill, by which their admission generally honored. Still, now that it is explicitly expressed in text, the federal government can be held more accountable for their actions.

Secondly, there are currently 4 states and (Colorado, Washington, Oregon & Alaska) who have legalized recreational cannabis use for individuals 21 years of age and older (2). Moreover Washington DC, our nations capital, has also approved the recreational use of cannabis with 70% of the voting population in favor of the change (3).

Lastly, as more and more states have began to legalize cannabis for recreational use, the United States Justice Department has gone on record and stated that it will not challenge state laws that legalize marijuana. Instead, the Justice Department will focus its federal enforcement on serious trafficking cases and keeping cannabis away from children (4).

With so many swift changes in policy happening constantly, and with the information coming from so many sources it can be difficult to establish what the “current” stance of the federal government truly is. Thankfully, VICE news recently hosted an interview with President Obama where they asked him the top 3 questions submitted by their viewers, of which the number one most asked question was regarding the Federal Governments position on cannabis legalization. In the video link below, President Obama can be seen expressing his stance on cannabis decriminalization & legalization as well the current status of cannabis rescheduling on the federal level (5):


  1. Armentano. “President Signs Federal Spending Bill Protecting State Sanctioned Medical Marijuana Programs” [Internet]. NORML; December 2014 [cited 2015 Mar 24]. Available from: https://blog.norml.org/2014/12/16/president-to-sign-federal-spending-bill-protecting-state-sanctioned-medical-marijuana-programs/
  2. “State Marijuana Laws Map” [Internet]. Governing.com; February 2015 [cited 2015 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html
  3. “State, Local Marijuana Legalization Measures Win Big On Election Day” [Internet]. NORML; November 2014 [cited 2015 Mar 24]. Available from: https://norml.org/news/2014/11/05/state-local-marijuana-legalization-measures-win-big-on-election-day
  4. Perez. “No federal challenge to pot legalization in two states” [Internet]. CNN; August 2013 [cited 2015 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/politics/holder-marijuana-laws/
  5. “President Obama on Marijuana Legalization and Criminalization: The VICE News Interview” [Internet]. VICE News; March 2015 [cited 2015 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMQDQl0ZQv8