Barack Obama on Illegal Drugs

Last Updated : Jul 27, 2012


President Obama has admitted that in his youth he used marijuana and other drugs. During the campaign, he made statements that led some people to believe that he would either support de-criminalizing marijuana or at least be less agressive in enforcing those laws. Particularly, he stated that he did not believe that the best use of resources was to go after medical marijuana users in compliance with state law.

In the first few months of the Obama administration, raids on medical marijuana companies continued under the previous DEA head. When questioned on the policy, AG Holder and President Obama both stated that it was not the policy of their administration to target the users and their caregivers. Eventually, a memo was issued clarifying this position and noting that the Justice Department was not interested in targetting people in compliance with state law.

When raids on medical marijuana companies continued, the Obama administration clarified that it was never their intent to allow large producers of marijuana to be immune from prosecution and those sorts of companies were the targets of the raids. Overall, raids on medical marijuana facilities is up compared to the Bush administration.

Statements on Early Use

During a CNN debate, Senator Obama stated that he smoked marijuana and that he "inhaled frequently" and that "that was the point." When campaigning in Iowa, Senator Obama was again asked if he used marijuana and if he inhaled. He stated that he did indeed. In his memoirs "Dreams from My Father," President Obama stated that he "drank heavily" and "tried drugs enthusiastically." 

2008 Presidential Election

During the 2008 eleciton cycle, Senator Obama stated in an interview that under him, the Justice Department would not consider medical marijuana users or caregivers that are operating in accordance with state law a priority in enforcing the law. The inference was that state law would be allowed to have medical marijuana facilities.

Initial Policy

Less than a month after assuming office, President Obama gave an interview in which he reiterated his views that federal resources should not be used prosecuting people acting in accordance with state law on medical marijuana.

Early Raids

In February of 2009 there was a series of raids on medical marijuana facilities. Attorney General Eric Holder asserted that this was not the policy that would be pursued under President Obama. In two separate statements, AG Holder asserted that people using medical marijuana in accordance with state law would not be targetted.

The Ogden Memo

In October of 2009, a Deputy AG issued a memo establishing policy on medical marijuana. This memo mirrored the language that President Obama used during the election and while in office to that date. It called for not interferring with medical marijuana and their caregivers and companies operating within state laws.

Questionning of AG Holder

In May of 2010, AG Holder was questioned by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis regarding the difference between the policy of allowing companies to operate under state laws and the continued raids. AG holder confirmed that companies operating in state laws were not meant to be a focus.

The Cole Memo

In June of 2011, a second memo was issued clarifying some points from the Ogden Memo. This memo noted that a number of multi-million dollar companies have started that produce the marijuana used by the medical marijuana community. The memo asserts that it was never the intent of the previous memo to give legal grounds for those types of operations.

Rolling Stone Interview

In April of 2012, President Obama was interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine. When asked about medical marijuana, President Obama backed the content of the Cole memo. He stated that his policy was not to arrest medical marijuana users, but that it was never intended that the large scale producers be given immunity from prosecution.

Increased Number of Raids

Under the Obama administration, raids on marijuana facilities have increased. During his time in office, there have been more than 200 raids on legal medical marijuana facilities. This is more than the full 8 years under President Bush. This includes a raid on a school that taught medical marijuana classes.


Inhaling is the point

At the onset of the 2008 Presidential campaign a clip emerged with Barack Obama being asked about previous drug use, particulary Marijuana. Part of Senator Obama's response included "I inhaled frequently, that was the point". The clip below shows this response as it was aired on the Chris Mathews show.



When questioned about his marijuana use on the campaign trail, Senator Obama again stated that he did use drugs, he did inhale, and that was the point.


Dreams from my father

In his book "Dreams from my Father", Barack Obama spoke about his alcohol and drug use in high school and noted that he "drank heavily, (and) tried drugs enthusiastically."


Mail Tribune Interview

In March of 2008, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Oregon Newspaper the Mail Tribune. He was asked about what his policy would be towards marijuana if election and responded that he would focus on violent crimes and not be as concerned with marijuana crimes.


Washington Times Interview

In February of 2009, a series of raids were carried out on medical marijuana shops in California. The raids were carried out with the Bush appointed head of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, still in charge. President Obama's White House spokesman Nick Shapiro was quoted by the Washington Times as stating that resources would not be used to circumvent valid state laws regarding marijuana.


Initial Response to the Raids

Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about the February 2009 raids on medical marijuana at a press conference. When pressed as to whether or not these raids represented a shift in policy from the campaign, he stated that it did not.


Clarification of Raids

In March of 2009, during a question-and-answer session with reporters at the Justice Department, Holder clarified his previous statement on the February raids. Again, the answer was that the Justice Department was only interested in people breaking both federal and state laws.


The Ogden Memo

In October of 2009, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden wrote a memo to US attorneys in states with medical marijauna programs. The memo said that law enforcement efforts targeting drug manufacturing and trafficking should not focus on those in compliance with state laws. However, it also gave a list of activites to link marijuana to illicit activity. It also noted that state law did not trump federal law.


Reaction to New Mexico Shops

In 2009, New Mexico rewarded its first license for a marijuana producer. Attorney General Eric Holder was specifically asked about the federal government’s take in a June interview. In his response, he stated again that the Justice Department would not harass those complying with state law.


House Judiciary Committee

During a May 10, 2010 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) asked Attorney General Holder about going after businesses complying with state laws. The Attorney General again restated that any entity operating along the outline given in the Ogden Memo would not be targetted.


The Cole Memo

In June of 2011, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo in response to questions put forth from attorneys regarding the incongruity of the Ogden memo with recent raids. In clarification, DAG Cole stated that the Ogden memo was meant to protect individual medical marijuana users and their specific care givers. the large private industry that was coming to fruition as a result of the new marijuana industry was not protected.


Justice Department Oversignt Committee

In December of 2009, AG Eric Holder was questioned by Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado concerning the Ogden memo and the Cole memo. AG Holder again stated that they were only targetting large scale companies and not care givers and that those in compliance with state law would not be a priorit for the Justice Department.


Oaksterdam University Raid

In April of 2012, federal agents raided a marijuana school in Oakland, California known as Oaksterdam University. Oakland had long been a safe haven for marijuana supporters and the raid on the school and its owner was seen as a significant policy shift for the Obama administration.


Rolling Stone Interview

In an April 2012 Rolling Stone interview, Pres. Obama was reminded of his 2008 campaign pledge not to “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” In his response, he noted that it was never the intention to make it legal for large scale marijuana facilities to operate. He also asserted that he could not simply wave a wand and get rid of laws like the marijuana laws.


Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

This representative has not been identified as sponsoring or cosponsoring significant legislation related to this title.

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