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Originally published December 14, 2012 at 5:41 AM | Page modified December 14, 2012 at 9:43 AM

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Obama won't go after legal pot users in Washington, Colorado

President Obama says he won't go after Washington state and Colorado for legalizing marijuana.

The Washington Post

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WASHINGTON —

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama told Barbara Walters that recreational pot smoking in states that have legalized the drug is not a major concern for his administration.

"We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said of marijuana smokers in Colorado and Washington, the two states where recreational use is now legal under state law, but where uncertainty remained over how the federal government would view the matter.

"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," he said.

Under Obama, the Drug Enforcement Administration has aggressively gone after medical marijuana dispensaries in California, where they are legal. In September, federal officials raided several Los Angeles shops and sent warnings to many more.

"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Obama told Walters of the legalization in Colorado and Washington. "I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?"

Backers of new laws that legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado were cautiously optimistic after President Barack Obama said Uncle Sam wouldn't pursue pot users in those states.

Following the November votes in Washington and Colorado the Justice Department reiterated that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but had been vague about what its specific response would be.

Marijuana activists were relieved at Obama's comments, but had questions about how regulation will work. They said even if individual users aren't charged with crimes, marijuana producers and sellers could be subject to prosecution, civil forfeiture and other legal roadblocks.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech Wednesday that he would announce a policy on the new state laws "relatively soon."

The president, who smoked pot often in high school, told Walters that he does not support general legalization "at this point." It's the same position he's taken throughout his political career, despite his own history.

"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," Obama told Walters. "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society."

Material from The Associated Press was also used in the report.

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