Obama has incredible power to radically reshape federal marijuana policy without Congress

Absent from President Obama’s more than an hour long State of the Union address was any reference to drug policy reform or state level marijuana legalization. While Obama avoiding the issue isn’t surprising, it is disappointing giving the focus of the rest of the speech.

Having accepted there is little chance of getting anything through the Republican controlled House Obama used his speech to focus on actions he can take using only executive authority. The speech was used to unveil executive actions ranging from retirement savings to minimum wage to environmental policy.

Among all domestic issues,though, there were almost none where the executive branch is vested with more power than drug policy. Thanks to the language of the Controlled Substance Act, the constitutional power of the pardon, and having control over federal law enforcement Obama has incredible power to radically reshape federal marijuana policy without Congress.

With Obama effectively acknowledging that the next year will be primarily about smaller executive actions instead of trying to negotiate big legislation, it makes his continued refusal to fix federal marijuana policy even more disappointing. It is not likely other larger issues will completely dominate his time or he needs to worry about upsetting Republicans he is trying to cut big deals with. If he doesn’t improve our broken federal marijuana policies it will be solely because he doesn’t want to.