POLITICS
01/09/2013 12:19 pm ET Updated Jan 09, 2013

Marijuana Legalization Petition Draws White House Response

The White House weighed in once more Tuesday on the issue of marijuana legalization, responding to a trio of highly popular petitions submitted to its "We the People" website.

President Barack Obama's administration dispatched Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a well-known marijuana foe, to handle the query. He began by acknowledging that the nation was "in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana," and then referred petitioners to the administration's previous response to recent legalization measures passed in Colorado and Washington. Kerlikowske declined to say what, if any, progress had been made on the Justice Department's review of those states' initiatives, and went on to quote from Obama's most recent comments on marijuana legalization, given to Barbara Walter of ABC News.

Kerlikowske selected a particularly innocuous segment of Obama's response, in which the president describes the necessity for his administration to "reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal."

The administration has responded to petitions on marijuana legalization in the past. Before "We the People" was utilized predominantly as a forum to air strange grievances, push for the deportation of a British media personality or express Star Wars fanaticism, it was used primarily to press the administration on drug policy.

Marijuana legalization advocates eventually got a response, also from Kerlikowske, that then broke no new ground on the longheld White House position that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.

In its latest response, it appears that the administration has at least been forced to shift the framing of their approach to the issue of marijuana legalization. That said, they are apparently not yet ready to answer questions about a federal response to the recent progress in Colorado and Washington.

Tom Angell, chairman of legalization advocacy group Marijuana Majority, saw some promising signs in Kerlikowske's rhetoric:

"From 'legalization is not in my vocabulary and it's not in the president's,' as Gil Kerlikowske often used to say, to 'it is clear that we're in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana' is a pretty stark shift," he said. "Of course, what really matters is to what extent the administration actually shifts enforcement priorities and budgets, but I sure do like hearing the U.S. drug czar acknowledge the fact that marijuana legalization is a mainstream discussion that is happening whether he likes it or not."

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