The beginning of the second term is normally a period of big changes in a presidential administration and President Obama’s is no exception. He is going to get a new Treasury Secretary, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. One notable member of the cabinet that does plan to stay on for at least the near future is Attorney General Eric Holder. This is significant for the marijuana reform movement.
Holder is the individual primarily responsible for dealing with the federal/state conflict regarding marijuana law. He not only provides legal advice to the President, but as the head of the Department of Justice he controls much of the federal law enforcement apparatus including the FBI and DEA. In addition, the Attorney General has the power to reschedule drugs, including marijuana, without Congressional involvement.
Having Holder remain in his current position is probably not great news for the reform movement. He has proven not to be a friend of the movement. In fact, under Holder multiple federal agencies have acted aggressively against state medical marijuana programs trying to undermine them on several fronts. The federal behavior towards medical marijuana has been much worse under Obama than any of the recent presidents.
While the Obama administration seems to be slightly altering its public stance towards marijuana reform following the recent passage of the legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, it is normally unusual to see significant course changes at large bureaucracies without a change of leadership.
There is a real possibility that we could see some minor improvements from the Obama administration on this issue, but Holder remaining as Attorney General I suspect makes seeing a big shift in federal policy towards state marijuana laws less likely.