Obama on Medical Marijuana: Getting Clearer


Last summer, when Barack Obama repeatedly distanced himself from the Bush administration's policy regarding medical marijuana, he stopped short of explicitly promising to let states go their own way in this area. But two recent interviews seem to have eliminated any wiggle room on that question. 

Until now Obama's firmest stand was the one he took on August 21 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Asked if he would continue the Drug Enforcement Administration's raids on medical marijuana users and their caregivers, he replied:

I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It's not a good use of our resources.

That statement still left open the possibility of prosecuting and raiding the people who supply patients with marijuana and are permitted to do so under state law. In a May 9 interview with Oregon's Willamette Week, however, Obama was specifically asked whether he would "stop the DEA's raids on Oregon medical marijuana growers" (emphasis added), and he said:

I would because I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism. The way I want to approach the issue of medical marijuana is to base it on science, and if there is sound science that supports the use of medical marijuana and if it is controlled and prescribed in a way that other medicine is prescribed, then it's something that I think we should consider.

That last part is rather vague: Who is "we," and what is it they're considering? The Obama campaign's response to questions from the Los Angles Times clarifies things a bit:

"Voters and legislators in the states—from California to Nevada to Maine—have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering," said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.

"Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice— though he believes medical marijuana should be subject to [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] regulation like other drugs," LaBolt said. He said the FDA should consider how marijuana is regulated under federal law, while leaving states free to chart their own course.

It seems to me that Obama now has unequivocally promised to back off and allow states to make their own policy decisions about the medical use of marijuana within their own borders. He also seems to be saying the federal government should consider rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act so that doctors can legally prescribe it. Even if that second part never materializes, on this issue Obama is much better than John McCain, who (as the Times notes) has repeatedly flip-flopped between federalism and drug-war dogmatism, with the latter at this point winning out.