Is Obama's Medical Marijuana Reversal 'Shocking'?

In a new Rolling Stone piece, Tim Dickinson rehearses Barack Obama's reversal on medical marijuana, covering much of the same ground that I did in my October cover story for Reason (which also discusses other disappointing aspects of Obama's drug policies). It's a good summary, featuring outraged quotes from reformers and making the point that Obama, despite his talk of deferring to state law, is arguably worse on this issue than his predecessor. But I think Dickinson makes too much of an anti-marijuana document produced by the Drug Enforcement Administration:

In January 2011, weeks after [Bush administration holdover Michele] Leonhart was confirmed [as head of the DEA], her agency updated a paper called "The DEA Position on Marijuana." With subject headings like THE FALLACY OF MARIJUANA FOR MEDICINAL USE and SMOKED MARIJUANA IS NOT MEDICINE, the paper simply regurgitated the Bush administration's ideological stance, in an attempt to walk back the Ogden memo. Sounding like Glenn Beck, the DEA even blamed "George Soros" and "a few billionaires, not broad grassroots support" for sustaining the medical-marijuana movement—even though polls show that 70 percent of Americans approve of medical pot.

Almost immediately, federal prosecutors went on the attack. Their first target: the city of Oakland, where local officials had moved to raise millions in taxes by licensing high-tech indoor facilities for growing medical marijuana. A month after the DEA issued its hard-line position, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag warned the city that the feds were weighing "criminal prosecution" against the proposed pot operations. Abandoning the Ogden memo's protections for state-sanctioned "caregivers," Haag effectively re-declared war on medical pot. "We will enforce the Controlled Substances Act vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana," she wrote, "even if such activities are permitted under state law."

This juxtaposition suggests the U.S. attorneys were following the DEA's lead, which seems unlikely. In any case, the DEA's position on medical marijuana has never really changed. The July 2010 version of this document, which appeared half a year before the U.S. attorneys' crackdown, is essentially the same as the current version, which (as Dickinson suggests) is essentially the same as the version produced during the Bush administration. Leonhart and her underlings were never on board with the forbearance promised by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and neither were the federal prosecutors who are going after growers and dispensaries now. Obama would have had to make an effort to change the status quo, and he clearly didn't think it was worth it.

Was this failure "shocking," as the subhead over Dickinson's story says? That depends on your perspective. When my article on Obama's drug policies came out, Jeralyn at Talk Left had this reaction:

Jacob Sullum has the October cover story at Reason on President Obama: Bummer: Barack Obama Turns Out to Be Just Another Drug Warrior." As if anyone should be surprised.

I'm not. I've been writing since 2007 that he would do little to temper the War on Drugs. I would have called the article "Bummer: Barack Obama Is Still A Drug Warrior."

As I note in my Reason piece, there were indeed warning signs before Obama was elected. But many reformers were genuinely surprised that, with the exception of crack sentences, he turned out to be no better than Bush and in some ways worse. With medical marijuana especially, the political risks of a bit more tolerance seemed small, and there was even a sound conservative/constitutionalist argument for letting states make their own decisions. Obama seems to assume that supporters who care about this issue and other progressive causes he has betrayed (the anti-war movement and civil liberties, for instance) have nowhere else to go, but they could just stay home.

The Drug War Chronicle notes that Delaware has suspended its medical marijuana program in response to federal threats.

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  • Rich||

    Ironically, some of the impetus for the passage of Delaware's medical marijuana law was the Obama administration's earlier adoption of a hands-off position on medical marijuana, [which] said federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers was "unlikely to be an efficient use of federal resources."

    Well, there's your mistake: Thinking that an admission of inefficiency meant "hands off".

  • ||

    Here's an interesting fact for you dudes: Over 70 percent of violent criminals (including rapists, murderers, and perpetrators of aggravated assault and battery) are released after fewer than four years in incarceration to make room for nonviolent drug offenders.

    Consummate with their moral degeneracy and illiberalism, drug warriors should eat shit and die.

  • ||

    [citation please]

    Not because I don't believe you, but because I want to show it to my dumbass drug-warrior friends.

  • ||

    I actually have it in a book I read a while ago -- watch this space for the citation.

  • ||

    I will. Thanks, man.

  • PFOJ||

    Guarantee the drug warrior response is that we just need to build more prisons, not any admission of fault with the drug war itself.

  • ||

    Over 70 percent of violent criminals (including rapists, murderers, and perpetrators of aggravated assault and battery) . . .

    As an aside, and just for s&g, what percentage of these crimes were committed when the perpetrator was drunk, versus when he was high on weed?

  • ||

    There was actually an argument in that book about how retarded rationale for prohibition is for shit like cannabis, because alcohol is legal, and it was a fraction of the offenses committed by people intoxicated with alcohol -- I'll see if I can find those statistics as well

  • ||

    Fuck the drug war, Obama's gone back on almost every campaign promise he made to liberty-minded people.

    And by "almost every one," I mean every one.

  • ||

    An utter asshole lied his balls off to get the support of millions of pig-ignorant morons? Shocking!

  • ||

    It's un-possible!

  • ||

    An utter asshole lied his balls off to get the support of millions of pig-ignorant morons?

    Yep. And those very same pig-ignorant morons are going to vote him in for a second term.

  • ||

    Only a racist would change their vote after voting for Obama in 2008.

  • Martin L King||

    I once said something about the content of person's character. I must say so myself it was a pretty good speech though liberals of today throw hissy fits when you mention it.

  • Martin L King||

    content of person's character.

    When you go zombie you lose all your prepositions. I'd never make that mistake while still breathing.

  • ||

    You really think they're going to vote for Santorum or Mitt instead? Are those two even viable alternatives in your reality? Remember, writing someone in does not count in many states.

  • Rev. Blue Moon ||

    It's only "shocking" to the airheaded dopes at Rolling Stone who projected their own Liberal Fantasies onto Articulate Black NotBush.

  • ||

    Libruhl Pothead: "But dude! He's a Democrat! I don't get it!"

  • ||

    +1,000,000

  • ||

    "Mister President, I am disappoint."

  • ||

    "Unprincipled and well spoken is no way to go through life, son."

  • -eds 4 life||

  • CatoTheElder||

    About as shocking a Guantanamo still being open. IOW, not shocking at all, and not nearly as shocking as NDAA 2012.

  • ||

    And where are the liberal protesters? I guess they can't stomach the idea that their savior -"the one" is in fact nothing but a clone of George Bush. so they stick their heads in the sand chanting "la laaa la la laaa la".

  • ||

    Of course it's shocking!

    The writer voted for Obama, ergo Obama WAS awesome in 2008.

    Awesome people do awesome things. If they don't, it's shocking. Duh.

  • plisade||

    A governor with some cajones would dispatch their militia to guard dispensaries against the feds.

  • His Dudeness||

    That would be awesome, but the truth is, they don't even really need to go that far. I would take a governor who has the cajones to simply get a team of lawyers together to fight for the states' right of nullification...

  • ||

    Where are all the protesters who hung effigies of George Bush as a war criminal? All the liberals who railed against Bush for the Patriot Act? Now Obama has not only re-signed the misnamed Patriot Act, but has also signed the NDAA 2012, which in my opinion is as bad, if not worse, then the Patriot Act ever was. Even Bush got quasi-authorization from Congress to start the Iraq War. Obama totally ignored the Congress going into Libya, instead seeking permission from the United Nations. He has dramatically increased drone strikes into Pakistan causing mass collateral damage further destabilizing the country and the U.S. puppets in the Pakistani government. And he had the audacity to claim it was not a "war" in Libya because there were no ground troops! As if dropping bombs on a sovereign country is not an act of war. How can Americans put up with such flagrant usurpation's of power? Obama is worse than Bush on the two issues that had them in the streets during the latter's administration, civil liberties and war. Now not a sound. It proves the left is comprised of disingenuous cowards who hold no real principles.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    God, that Rolling Stone pic--it's like Obama's thinking, "Haha, I can't believe I got you guilt-ridden SWPL phaggots to think I was going to be any different!"

  • Rick Rosio||

    ANYONE who has an interest in cannabis therapy's role in our modern society should WATCH THE DYING PLEADING FOR SAFE ACCESS:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4el6EGqcUw
    WATCH AND WEEP for all the NEEDLESS SUFFERING

  • ||

    Jesus said to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. None of us would want our child or grandchild thrown in jail with the sexual predators over marijuana. None of us would want to see an older family member’s home confiscated and sold by the police for growing a couple of marijuana plants for their aches and pains.
    If the people who want to use marijuana could grow a few plants in their own back yards, it would be about as valuable as home-grown tomatoes; it would put the drug gangs out of business and get them out of our neighborhoods.

  • ||

    Curious... 3 erased comments today, same library, a newblackpanty spying me even beyoun sofla terror logi$TICK castrogovcopy gov of the ring$...
    testing... testing
    ah!: my name is (was,YEAAAHHH!! (I LAUGH ON BHORK$ LIKE "MY KIND OF -army of darkness- TEA HEORES ... tEaLRON of TEAvendell... on ... fREDo BagGENS from TEA Shire (NOT sharia)...:
    TEA hobbit is showing an extraordinary reassilliance (or whatever said right) to that evil...
    GWANDalf: that wound ( A MOREGOV BLADE) will never really heal... he'll carry it for TEA rests of his life...

    I loved that comment, not 4 hours ago, 3, but GWANDAlf said...:

  • ||

    "just" Me, TEAleave): better...
    We can't ask no more to fREDo...
    tEaLRON: GWANDalf!!, the enemy is moving!! THEIR FORCES ((this is no
    b(beep)t "entertainning"))ARE MASSING IN TEA EAST!!
    (HEY! TO TEALEAVES AND ALL TEA ALLIES: short comments can pa$$ the VERY EXPENSIVE "FEW" TRILLIONN$ MOREGOV OF THE RINGS (FROM THE GLOBAL FRAKIN LEFT!! INFILTRATED ON ANY, MASONICS AND ANY RELIGION SPECIALLY THE TODAY JIHADDIST ISLAMIC INQUISITION, SODOMIk TEACHERS (PRE-SHARIALAW, POLITICIANS, PRIESTS,GANGSTERS,AUUUUTHORITY WARGS...

  • ||

    and... (this is for erasing my COOL COMMENTS, some I remember, frak!, I spent a whole hour on the gov of the ring$ "back ground")...
    tEaLRON: the Ayer$ of C$A(U)RGOV IS FIXED OVER TEAvendell
    AND C$ARumen AS YOU SAY HAVE
    BETRAYED US... SO LONG AGO...
    (I have a fraking newblackpanty IN LITERALY FRONT OF ME, FOR MONTHS NOW...
    sometimes several, you know'm paralegali "street problem" experts trap, BAILEDOUT ALONG ACORN , bhork, I still have a castrocoyote gangster (involves sofla,panama,costarrica parapolitikal parafamily supported by auuuthorities I, as a sTEAlth blow off TEA mind of TEA people every fraking week, NO BAILOUT, no gangsters/uniformed police/judge/psycologist from fui castroagent combo orders of "the deseasses, minds, "wgrong", my sister was torutured by miamidade psycos and doctrolls for ayers, bhorK, that's how I FRAKIN KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO HISTORY AS ANOTHER TEDPALPATINEKENNEDY ANTI_VIETNAM MIND GOV ANAMONTES, BHORK,, ACORN, "MY STEP MOTHER BY K F RUNDELL (YOU TRY TO TAKE EXILED MEDIA WITH YOU, NA?, NEOLIBTIkal SODOMIC MEGACRIMINAL, YOU TOO: read , many of you!!!: CUBA IS TE RRO RIST, MA NORIEGA IS TE RRO RIST, HIS PARTY PRD, AND CDS ARE... YESSS, TE RRRO RISTS(THAT'S WHY "AMAZING TERROR THINGS HAPPEN),
    BA ILL ED OUT, FOR DECADES... THEY RANK OVER THIS OSSADY, WE, JUST OVER ODISSEY...

  • ||

    YES, RETURN TO HERE...
    I WILL

  • ||

    aaa!!!, tea WAR INFO!!:
    drug dealers (farmed, risen... they, they just "sel drugs", the abuse on they "costumers" (wich could be a real injuried/illed integral person desperatedly seeking for natural temporary releaf of pain, etc... not some hiphop self denouncing criminal mind, from no God at schools but sodomic pre-sharialaw... excuses for "More changes", and the unnecesary surely violence going wild "of such encounters, gay-islamic 'compitting" for ... land... on the(ir noilibtiK-rinoliphant land) empire (left), by TEA way), they (dealers) are used as the potential recluiters for crime (auuuthority knows the threats of the violents,
    another acorn (a check from acorn on my 2004 face, my "stepmother by kfrundellmanoriega laws")such a mistake:
    to torture/slave/retain a sister/family (I have my best friends assesinated by castro-ma noriega-cd people, publicly and all the s(BEEP)t) and even my medical-laws demanded to... "JUST STOP TF WAY OF THINKING (THIS I NARRATE IS 2004) ON IMPOSSIBLE (ACORN SAID) TO POSSIBLY EVEN DARE TO CONSIDER AND... THINK ABOUT)
    i REMAIN OFFERING FOR FREE MY HUMBBLE SERVICES TO THE TEAPARTY CREATOR/PROPAGANDIST OF TEA WAR: homestead auuuuthorities/gangsters jailed after my sister was liberated by (other police, dade... non from dade...) and terror logistics,

  • ||

    several adds of your frakin communi$TICK terror logi$TICK lie at youtube the hobbit? wao!
    expen$ive, OHHHHH m f g expensive dude... you're .... high...
    sure... you "win"

  • ||

    comming up: some on "my" (those) amazing things I rather to be blogging/researching on:
    (anctient history,discovery,etc...)
    Jupiter, Saturn, etc... gas megaplanets... have being lit... before...
    more times as we reach the beginning of our solar system (means life, for milenias/millions of years, "periods of life") ...
    psst... philosophy, mithology, even... religion: yes, Saturn actually "eats his children (gas planets are male, sun is male, Earth, female)"
    the collors: blue Neptune: green on Nature inside the planets, emerald Uranus warm, yellow(-orange lately) Saturn, and orange-red almost lit Jupiter (almost, means, any moment now, the 'problem is for universal time, now may mean tomorrow, next month, century..., but I think is comming soon, he's being igniting for days, week, for the lasts years, and I also suspect, he (Jupiter) will ignite "almost too" forever... this time... our solar system is getting mature, not old, and Nostradamus said an end of the Earth will happen on the year of Our Lord of...: tadaaa: 3430, or something, 3040, not sure the decade, but it's a milenia away... enough to (re) learn to evacuate planets, wich mean space, and where to go...: Europa, Saturn moons are filled out of ice, Saturn's rings, that's way the abeauty: crystal...
    see you my friends

  • ||

    ahh!, by 3040apx, the other gas giant planets will ignite

  • doNatas||

    President Obama promise of "Hope" and "Change"


    I respectfully suggest that you issue their full pardon to all cannabis prisoners


    Mr. President Obama, I am hereby respectfully requesting that your exercise your executive privilege as President of the United States and that you grant full pardons, vindication and subsequent removal of their felony convictions of all cannabis prisoners


    LEGALIZE IT, DON’T CRITICIZE IT!

    LEGALIZE FREEDOM because

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