WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama says the federal government won't go after recreational marijuana use in Washington state and Colorado, where voters have legalized it.
In a Barbara Walters interview airing Friday on ABC, Obama was asked whether he supports making pot legal.
"I wouldn't go that far," Obama replied. "But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you've seen the voters speak on this issue."
But the president said he won't pursue the issue in the two states where voters legalized the use of marijuana in the November elections. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
"... as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions," Obama said. "It does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law, that's legal."
Marijuana officially became legal in Washington state and Colorado this month.
The Justice Department hasn't targeted recreational marijuana users for decades. With limited resources, its focus has been to go after major drug traffickers instead.
Nonetheless, the Justice Department has said repeatedly in recent weeks that it is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington state. The states have expressed concern that the federal government might sue over the issue. Department officials have said they are waiting to see what regulations the two states adopt to implement the initiatives.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday the president believes there are "bigger fish to fry" in prioritizing law enforcement goals. Carney noted Obama's comments were similar to his remarks about the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
"But the law is the law, and that is why he has directed the Department of Justice to review these ballot initiatives and make some assessments about how to proceed," Carney said.
In the department's most recent statement on the issue, the U.S. attorney for Colorado said Monday that the department's responsibility to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act "remains unchanged."
"Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress," U.S. Attorney John Walsh said. "Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 10 in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."
Walsh added: "Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."