WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama says federal authorities should not target recreational marijuana use in two Western states where it has been made legal given limited government resources and growing public acceptance of the controlled substance.
His first comments on the issue come weeks after Washington state and Colorado voters supported legalizing pot, or cannabis, last month in ballot measures that stand in direct opposition of federal law.
"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," he told ABC News in part of an interview released on Friday.
"At this point (in) Washington and Colorado, you've seen the voters speak on this issue. And, as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions," Obama said.
The Department of Justice has said pot remains a federally controlled substance and states have been looking for guidance from Washington on how it will handle the conflict with state laws.
Medical use of the substance is legal in 18 U.S. states. But federal officials have still continued to crack down on some providers in those states.
Pot remains an illegal narcotic under U.S. law, but Washington and Colorado became the first states in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana use on November 6. A similar effort in Oregon failed.
Obama called the situation "a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law." He told ABC that "what we're going to need to have is a conversation about" how to reconcile federal and state laws, and that he has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to examine the issue.
In his 1995 memoir, "Dreams of My Father," Obama admitted to regularly smoking pot in high school. The father of two told ABC that he would not go so far as to say pot should be legalized altogether. There are also concerns about drug use in children and violence, he told ABC, according to its website.
"I want to discourage drug use," he added.
The new measures in Washington and Colorado, which already permit medical marijuana use, allow possession of up to an ounce of the substance for private use. They also will regulate and tax sales at special stores for those aged 21 and older.