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President Obama's drug policy adviser on medical marijuana and enforcement

A budtender handles marijuana at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on Sept. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

On election day, voters in Washington and Colorado went for President Obama. They also voted to legalize marijuana.

But Gil Kerlikowske, the president's top drug adviser, says that states that have passed their own laws to legalize or decriminalize marijuana shouldn't assume the federal government will look the other way.

"There has been nothing that I have seen or heard from the Department of Justice that says 'Look we're not going to continue to enforce federal law,'" he says. "And we're going to continue to take a hard look at those people who are involved in making money on essentially a violation of federal law."

But Kerlikowske is no fan of the traditional approach to the "War on Drugs." He says "it's a huge mistake to give people the impression that this is a win or lose situation...we have to work really hard in this country to give young people the foundation they need to achieve what they want to do."

Kerlikowske favors treatment for addiction over incarceration, a preference that is reflected in his most recent budget.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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