Drug War

The Shifting Limits of Obama's Marijuana Tolerance


At The Daily Caller, Mike Riggs reports that President Obama is standing by his nominee to head the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart (now the acting administrator), despite objections from drug policy reformers dismayed by her continued enthusiasm for medical marijuana raids. That much is not surprising. But I confess that I was startled by the reply of an unnamed Justice Department official to criticism that the raids violate both an Obama campaign pledge and an October 2009 DOJ memo telling federal prosecutors to lay off medical marijuana patients and providers:

"I wouldn't say the memo 'discourages' certain raids," a DOJ offical told TheDC. Rather, "it talks about prioritizing resources most efficiently." And both the White House and the DOJ argued that the gist of the Holder memo was that the DEA would "not focus its limited resources on individual patients with cancer or other serious diseases."

That gloss blatantly misrepresents what the memo said (PDF):

As a general matter, pursuit of these [drug law enforcement] priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.

The only reasonable reading of this paragraph is that it "discourages" (without completely prohibiting) "certain raids." Furthermore, the instructions are not limited to "individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses"; they apply to all "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana," including "caregivers"—i.e., people authorized by state law to supply patients with marijuana. As I've noted before, the memo leaves wiggle room: "As a general matter" implies exceptions, and so does "unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources." Most important, disputes about exactly what constitutes "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state law (especially in California) can be used as a pretext for raids. But the new "cancer patients only" line implies that even licensed and regulated medical marijuana providers in jurisdictions that explicitly permit production and distribution—such as Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Colorado, and New Mexico—are vulnerable to federal seizure, arrest, and prosecution. If the Justice Department's forbearance is limited to patients, the DEA might even decide to raid dispensaries in Washington, D.C., which will be operating under a law that Congress implicitly approved by declining to override it.

That position is at odds not only with the 2009 memo but with Obama's promises on the campaign trail, which were not limited to patients. In a March 2008 interview with Oregon's Mail Tribune, for example, he said, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." Two months later, when another Oregon paper, Willamette Week, asked Obama whether he would "stop the DEA's raids on Oregon medical marijuana growers [emphasis added]," he replied, "I would, because I think our federal agents have better things to do."

The view expressed in the Daily Caller piece also contradicts what Attorney General Eric Holder said in June 2009 about New Mexico's dispensaries:

Holder, speaking in Albuquerque during a meeting focused on border issues, including drug trafficking, said his department is focused "on large traffickers," not on growers who have a state's imprimatur to dispense marijuana for medical reasons.

"For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law, and doing it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration," Holder said.

If the administration's official position is now that dispensaries are fair game regardless of what state law says, Obama and Holder are even more full of shit than I thought.

NEXT: "Guys in Jail Are Going To Rape You"

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  1. Right. He lied.

    It’s what politicians do best.

    1. See, I think a lot of people believe that…

      What they don’t seem to understand is that there is still a lot of hope for change.

      There may not be a lot of change, but as long as Obama’s in office, there will always be a lot of hope for change. …and isn’t that what’s really important?

      See, if he just changed things, then you wouldn’t have any hope for change at all–you’d just have the change but you wouldn’t need the hope.

      And who wants to live in a world without hope?

      1. You forget to say that it’s hope for the children.

      2. Every now and then, the man just needs to take a giant hope on us.

      3. That is pretty stupid. Hope is worthless if we know change will not come. The only thing Obama will be remembered for is ensuring that never again will a black man be the president of our United States.

    2. Let me be *cough*(less than)*cough* clear

  2. joe? Tony? Chad? MNG? ChicagoTom?

    You guys have anything to say?

    1. I certainly didn’t support Obama at all (esp. since I knew that the Dems would have Congress after 2008), but even I have been disappointed on the marijuana front. I was hoping for a bit more.

      Are the proposed tiny liberalizations of the Cuba travel policy the best thing from a libertarian standpoint with Obama?

      1. Maybe. Unless it was just a sop to Florida Cubans who think Castro is finally on his way out.

        1. Has Obama improved anything since replacing Bush? Anything?

          1. There has been a marked decrease in anti-GWBush editorial cartoons.

            1. So, no. Hey Obama supporters, care to weigh in on this? Wait, I know what you’ll say:

              “Well, at least we have a president that we’re not embarrassed by in other countries.”


            2. I can vouch for that.

          2. Actual line I heard this morning at the gym: “Well, at least he can put two sentences together without sounding like a moron.”

            So can a teenage whopper flopper. Doesn’t mean I want him running the country.

            1. That’s not even true either.

            2. At least a whopper flopper has learned a skill that is commercially useful. Which is far more than one can say about Obama. I’m constantly amused that a former community organizer/law lecturer/senator feels qualified to say anything about the private sector, which he’s never been a part of.

        2. Florida Cubans can go to Cuba so long as they have family there. No pandering necessary.

  3. Obama and Holder are even more full of shit than I thought

    There’s nothing in their track record that could have predicted this.

    Besides, look at Obama’s history so far: support unions. The teacher’s union got their money; now the police and prison guard unions need to keep their source of filthy lucre.

    1. Still can’t believe it was Tulpa, and not Episiarch, who brought us this gift.

      1. I’m a little out of the loop. How did you do that?

        (Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of little animated gifs or image embedding)

        1. Ah, inline CSS. I’m so very glad that you’ve now figured out a way to make H&R as visually aesthetically displeasing as Urkobold’s site.

          1. You’re right. It’s horribly disappointing that we didn’t bring this to Hit & Run first.

            Doubtlessly, this revelation will result in Mike de-empowering us.

            1. No blink or marque?

              1. Is such a thing possible? Holy cow, that would be awesome.

                1. Blink tags should be automatic ban hammer. No exceptions.

                  1. There’s a part of me that supports this idea.

                  2. Wrong. They should be licensed to favored commenters.

                    1. There is no appropriate use of blinking text. Ever.

                    2. Is so.

                2. And yes, the lack of demonstration above is intentional. It’s garish and evil, and I won’t be the first to do it.

                  1. I did it. I’m so ashamed.

    2. You can shit colors right into my eyes, but I still can’t embed pictures?

      This sucks.

      1. SF: That’s for our protection. From you.

        1. Don’t go all weak sister on me, sage.

          1. Right. RIGHT!

            *Slaps own face*


        2. I think she needs to have that mole closely examined by me.

      2. SF,

        There’s a way to embed images, but I haven’t gotten it to work for me. But observe Amakudari in action. Holy shit–see Tulpa’s below that!

        1. Yeah, I can’t get it to work either.

          1. Embedded, animated GIFs. It’s like having flying cars in the comments section!

      3. Well, you gave me no zuper-zowie special effects at all.

        Which is exactly what I want.

        So, thanks.

      1. What, you have been able to post a picture of lobster girl all this time but instead took either side on the mosque issue?

        What a fucking dick! I don’t care about your opinions, or mine, for that matter, we are talking about some sweet side boob here!

    3. Holy sweet baby Jesus! Lobster girl looks is frakin hot.

    4. Urkobold’s in ur code Playin’ with your crayons.

  4. Obama’s governing contradicts his campaign pledges and promises. Now, this is some fucking news! This is fucking unbelievable! Are there anymore examples of this?

    That Obama. I’m starting to think there’s something fishy about that fella.

    Still, that doesn’t excuse this racist post, Jacob. Any news on the Ground Zero Mosque Super Sleeper Cell?

  5. Obama is safe on this one because no Republican is going to chastise him for breaking his promise to keep up the raids.

    1. Reason’s BFF Gary Johnson might.

      1. Bro-mance.

      2. Gary Johnson is a Butt Fucking Fellator? No wonder Reason likes him.

        1. Gary Johnson is right about Howard Johnson being right. And I’m glad that the children were here to hear Gabby Johnson’s frontier gibberish.

          1. Blazing Saddles?

  6. Being full of shit is redundant when you are shit.

    I guess that’s cynical, butt I’d like to see some bravery in politics, the Cubs with the pennant and the Leafs with the Cup.

    [although if the leafs win one playoff game at least we can have a parade]

    1. Yeah don’t worry, the Cubs are right on the brink. What a fantastically run franchise — they’ve been given a shit market and no resources, and turned it into pure baseball gold.

      1. Until the Tribune Co. bought them in the 80s, they actually did have no resources.

        This has actually been a good decade for them…6 winning seasons and 3 playoff appearances for the first time since the 1930s.

  7. If the administration’s official position is now that dispensaries are fair game regardless of what state law says, Obama and Holder are even more full of shit than I thought.

    I am convinced that when it comes to killing people, medical marijuana raids and ackowledging the rights of detainees, Obama and Holder are overflowing with maggot infested fecal matter.

  8. Um, shouldn’t we be happy he is standing behind his nomination?

    At least now we can look at the reasonableness of the law as opposed to hoping for selective enforcement. Really, do we want to be satisfied because he puts someone in there that will ignore the laws temporarily only to strictly enforce them when the political winds change? Or do we want to keep the absurdity of the law in the public eyer until it is repealed?

    If he put someone else in that didn’t enforce the law but wanted to keep it on the books, I’d be a lot more suspicious than what he’s doing here.

    1. Yes. I would rather people not be going to jail and having their lives ruined even if it is because of selective enforcement.

    2. Shitty non-solution that it is, not arresting peaceful people is still better than arresting them.

    1. text text text text text

      1. “border: 4px solid rgb(255, 255, 0); background-color: rgb(127, 255, 0); color: rgb(255, 15, 148);”> I can do it!

        1. “border: 4px solid rgb(255, 255, 0); background-color: rgb(127, 255, 0); color: rgb(255, 15, 148);”>

          hmm, making my mistakes public

            1. “border: 4px solid rgb(255, 255, 0); background-color: rgb(127, 255, 0); color: rgb(255, 15, 148);”>

              EAT ME

              1. “font-size: 250%; color: red”>S “font-size: 250%; color: orange”>H “font-size: 250%; color: yellow”>O “font-size: 250%; color: green”>C “font-size: 250%; color: blue”>K “font-size: 250%; color: purple”>I “font-size: 250%; color: violet”>N “font-size: 250%; color: pink”>G

                  1. Try preview instead of submit.

                    Also, when you view the source there are extra carriage returns it puts in the HTML that will screw up the tags…make sure the tag only takes up one line.

                1. Enough with the fucking racist comments, dude. Why hide it?

            2. Oops, sorry about covering your comments, but to be positive about it you have now been absorbed into Lobster Girl.

              1. Yep, these toys will definitely be gone after tonight.

                1. We should have saved it for the weekend.

                2. You’ve got maybe a couple of hours to post your major opus, SF. Better figure it out quickly.

                  1. I’m giving up. I’ve been trying to post eye vomit for 30 minutes.

                    But I will renew my threat…

                    SugarFree|1.27.09 @ 2:27PM|#

                    If registration comes with the ability to post pictures, I’m all for it. I will flood this place with lolcats macros and 4chan seizure gifs. And my tagline will be long, inane and Ringu-like in its ability to kill you after 7 days.

                    I will make your eyes rue the day they first opened.

    1. …growing pot

      1. I knew burly homosexuals were somehow worthwhile.

        Bonus points for the “they must have fed the bears weed” subplot.

  9. Maybe your thinking is just backwards: try as he might there is nothing the moor Obama can do to stop the crusades of Michele the lion heart.

  10. Its actually kinda crazy when you think about it dude.


  11. I can’t help be notice that the only way to get a Democrat to support the decriminalization of marijuana is to suggest that it can be taxed and regulated. Seriously. Taxes are the only reason California has it on the ballot.

    They could care less about freedom, to Democrats it’s all about the taxes.

    1. True — libertarians should still vote for it though. Oppressive taxation is preferable to oppressive criminalization in a world that almost always involves picking your poison.

    2. I can’t help be notice that the only way to get a Democrat to support for the decriminalization of marijuana is repeal of Proibition was to suggest that it can be taxed and regulated.

      True story.

  12. I said a year ago that this “directive not to prosecute” was not what Obama advertised or what the media portrayed it to be. Take a look at the second page, where they define what it means to be “in strict compliance with” State medical marijuana laws. Unlawful weapon possession or having “excessive” amounts of cash somehow means that you are not “in strict compliance with” State medical marijuana laws — even though there is, to my knowledge, no State med. marijuana law that speaks about illegal weapons or “excessive” cash.

  13. Obama and Holder are even more full of shit than I thought.

    But it’s really great shit.

  14. Oh no you didn’t.

  15. Awesome!

    1. I sincerely hope someone at Reason is panicking over this.

      1. They will when someone with less restraint abuses this power. Frankly, I’m surprised that the porn/disgustingness hasn’t happened already.

        1. SF must have gone home.

  16. Well, the inmates are running the asylum now.

  17. What if I want to be a total dick?

    1. Replace 450 with 10000

  18. I voted for Obama because I believed he was a shining light on the darkness of marijuana prohibition but the continued criminalization of almost a million of our children each year for simple marijuana possession has not abated. His williness to be able to take lightly and even laugh when ask about legalizing marijuana speaks volumes to me and millions of others as to his character. He’ll not fool me again. Lie to me once, shame on you, lie to me twice, shame on me! Mr. Obama will be a one term President.

    1. I thought Obama’s candidacy was nothing short of a joke, despite how superficially affable he was, but there was absolutely no way in hell I could contribute to putting him in office with a Democratic majority in Congress. I believe the results speak for themselves. Or, a progressive/liberal interpretation would be … I’m a racist. However, I was certain Obama would be better on issues like this. I certainly agree with you. I think there’s a better saying you may want to consider:

      “Fool me once, shame on ? shame on you. Fool me ? you can’t get fooled again!”

  19. We’re nearing our limit of tolerance for the abomination that is Cannabis prohibition.

    The federal law, i.e. Schedule I Cannabis is a damned lie “by any measure of rational analysis”.

    It shall be repealed or repudiated.

    Believe it.

    Richard P Steeb, San Jose California

  20. you folks need to keep your cannabinoid receptors humming.

    there are powerful nasty forces at work that want to continue the drug war on us all, very much like the never ending terror wars. these war powers are much bigger than the power of our ineffective prez.

    the dea is a buncha jack-boots. close them down.

    obama looks like he would enjoy some herb. someone roll the man a phatty.

    cali is going to legalize in nov. adults will be legally able to grow 25 square ft worth at home. that’s more than enough cannabis per person. how can the feds trump? can’t, short of gulag cali.

    marijuana is a blessed and righteous herb, mon.

    Jah rastafari

  21. what is the federal deficit? trillions
    does anyone have any idea how big the beast has gotten?
    just curious , at a time when unemployment is hitting all time how
    many people work for the US gov?

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