Drug War

False Forbearance

Obama breaks his promise to respect medical marijuana laws.


Two weeks ago, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire vetoed a bill that would have clarified the rules for supplying medical marijuana in her state. She cited an April 14 letter in which Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, the U.S. attorneys for Washington, threatened to prosecute not only growers and providers but also "others who knowingly facilitate" their actions, including landlords, financiers, and even state employees who license and regulate medical marijuana suppliers.

U.S. attorneys in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Rhode Island, and Vermont have sent similar letters in recent months, discouraging some jurisdictions from proceeding with plans to establish licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. These threats, which are backed by the Justice Department, kill any lingering hopes that President Obama would keep his campaign promise to respect the medical marijuana laws that  have been enacted in 15 states and the District of Columbia.  

During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly said he would call off the Drug Enforcement Administration's raids on both medical marijuana users and their suppliers. In a March 2008 interview with southern Oregon's Mail Tribune, he said, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." Two weeks after Obama took office, a White House spokesman reiterated that position, saying, "The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws."

In October 2009, David Ogden, then the deputy attorney general, sent a memo that seemed to fulfill this promise. "As a general matter," he told U.S. attorneys, they "should not focus federal resources" on "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

Yet the DEA's medical marijuana raids not only have continued but are more frequent under Obama than they were under George W. Bush. Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which argues that patients who can benefit from marijuana should be able to obtain it legally, counts well over 100 raids in the two years and four months since Obama's inauguration, compared to about 200 during Bush's eight years in office. "The Obama administration really is being more aggressive than the administration of his predecessor," says ASA spokesman Kris Hermes.

At first it seemed the DEA was targeting growers and sellers who arguably were not "in clear and unambiguous compliance" with state law, since the rules for supplying medical marijuana were fuzzy in jurisdictions such as California, Colorado, and Montana. But the U.S. attorney letters conclusively show that, contrary to the impression left by the Ogden memo, complying with state law provides no protection against federal prosecution.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler insists there is "no inconsistency" between the recent threats and the Ogden memo, which she says "talks about not investigating sick individuals who might be in compliance with state law." Actually, the memo refers not to "sick individuals" but to "individuals" generally, and it cites as examples not only patients but "caregivers" who supply them with marijuana.

In any case, the Justice Department's distinction between patients and suppliers cannot be reconciled with Attorney General Eric Holder's description of the new policy. "The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law," he said in March 2009. "Our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that's inconsistent with federal and state law."

The new gloss on the Ogden memo, notes Hermes, is "exactly the same as what Bush said for years: 'We're not targeting patients.' There is no change."

The problem, of course, is that most of the "sick individuals" the Obama administration claims to be sparing are not up to the task of growing their own marijuana. When DEA raids or threats to landlords shut down dispensaries, Hermes notes, "patients wake up the next morning wondering where they're going to find their medication." Obama's position is that patients can have marijuana; they just can't get it anywhere.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Let me be clear. I will not sacrifice America’s youth on that alter of the vile weed. I just said that stuff because the kids these days think smoking the chronic is cool. I had to get them out of vote somehow or I wouldn’t have been elected to do the important things like ruin healthcare and bomb Libya.

    1. How long before you just get rid of the obsolete idea of independent states completely?

      You could replace them with Reichsstatthalter Federal governors appointed directly by yourself.

      1. Yes, the regional governors could then have direct control over territories. Fear would keep the local systems in line.

        1. This is the second time the morning I’ve seen the Obama administration compared to the Empire in Star Wars by people who were only half-kidding.

          1. I’m not laughing.

            1. Sounds like a GREAT idea!

              When’s lunch? I’m starving!

    2. Obama gets votes because of the color of his skin not because of his campaign platform, so what does it matter if he breaks every promise he made. As long as his opponent in 2012 is white a lot of the same people will vote for him again anyway.

  2. SugarFree|1.31.08 @ 2:37PM|#

    Obama vs. McCain or Romney, I vote for Obama.

    The Obamatarians used to be thick around here.

    1. But he was going to end the war, close GUITMO, repeal the Patriot Act, and allow medical marijuana. Sure, he wanted to socialize medicine and spend us into bankruptcy. But it is not like he was going to get any of that though Congress. Right?


        1. The same people who say that want Ron Paul to be President so he can spend four years vetoing bills thought that two years of Pelosi, Reid and Obama with no adult supervision was preferable to a McCain Pelosi gridlock death match.

          1. Are you saying pot affects memory or clouds judgment? Maybe it leads to irresponsible voting. Breathalyzers and urinalysis at every voting booth!

          2. So you think that McCain, Mr Maverick wouldn’t have gone along with much of the same polices that the Democrats passed? He got that “Maverick” nit name by abandoning his own party and joining with the Democrats at every opportunity.

            1. I think Pelosi and Reid would have never given him the opportunity. In order to sell out, someone has to be willing to buy. And the Democrats would have passed only really crazy stuff knowing he would veto it. That way they could have called him a do nothing President and gotten their base riled up about the radical in the White House.

              Further, they would have never given McCain the kind of pass on the war that they are giving Obama.

              1. Pelosi and Reid are McCains buddies. McCain would have gone along with them in return for support for the wars. Since Pelosi and Reid weren’t going to stop the wars, they didn’t under Bush and wouldn’t under McCain then its no loss to them.

                1. No. We will never know. But I don’t think there is any way two partisan fanatics like Pelosi and Reid would have ever let McCain or anyone else who is not a Democrat play statesman and sign off on something as big as healthcare reform or anything else of significance for that matter.

    2. Libertarians. Let me be clear. You fucked up you trusted me. But understand come the fall of 2012 you will be buying what I have to sell. So why don’t you jump on the team and come in for the big win? Come on don’t you want to join the winning team? This whole small government thing thing is just a fad. We have to hang in there until it blows over. You know all the people you really think are cool are on the left anyway.

      1. I know that what written as a joke, but libertarians need to be honest with themselves. Do you really think Obama could possibly lose reelection? Isn’t it better to work with the government we have and deserve to have than to rock the boat? Do you even like winning?

        Your rants and raves about freedom and government spending sound nice, it’s useful rhetoric. Still, when people go to vote they’re not going to swallow what you’re spitting out. They’re going to pull for “still feels good” choice. As long as Obama is still top salesman, that is.

        1. Do you really think Obama could possibly lose reelection?

          Yes. Quite easily, if the economy is still in the shitter next year, or if he doesn’t get widespread credit for any turnaround between now and then.

          1. Come on!

            If the economy is still in the shitter it will be because of Republican obstructionism not allowing enough government “stimulus”.

            If the economy stays in the shitter not only will Obama get reelected, but Republicans will lose seats in Congress.

            1. Sorry but that dog is blind and only has one good leg. It just won’t hunt anymore.

              1. Class warfare works.

                1. That is not class warfare, that is stupid warfare, which works sometimes but not all the time. No President in this day and age is getting re-elected, absent some bizarre chain of events, with an economy this bad.

                  1. “that is stupid warfare”

                    It still works.

            2. I always enjoy your sarcasm.

            3. Nope. The Prez always wears the economy. Bush the Elder got a boost from GW1 at about the same time in his presidency, but it didn’t last.

              If the misery index hits 14%, Obama is toast.

          2. Obama getting Osama helped his case a lot. (Obama’s, not Osama’s. Unless the terrorists respond to his killing. Then it would also help Osama’s case, but I digress).

            But I agree that the economy could still be his undoing. That and just a tad too much intervention in everything and a huge number of broken promises. But even with a bad economy, some natural disasters that he seems to “fix” or another terrorist attack before the elections could also get him re-elected. I’d give him odds of 66% +/- 33% of getting re-elected. And Paulie Krugnuts and the like do have the argument that “I told you the stimulus wasn’t big enough” The only way most of these people would admit they were wrong or will be judged as wrong even if they don’t admit it is if the economy really tanks and we have 10% inflation. And since the CPI numbers are rigged, we would have to have actual inflation of 20% for people to realize/admit it was so high. After all, if there are still unrepentant marxists/socialists that say the Soviet bloc was not so bad and if most people don’t admit/realize that the real estate bubble was driven by government policies, then things have to get really bad and become so obvious before people really change their minds. I don’t know if it will get that bad. But, if it does, we will really be screwed.

        2. I think what you don’t understand is many of us big- and small-l’s are principled, not pragmatic, when it comes to our politics. It’s a tough way to be, but I honestly don’t know any other way. I listen to my pragmatist friends and I think how mean their worlds must be.

    3. Aw, c’mon. I didn’t in the end. I didn’t vote for president at all. And I voted for Rand Paul. How many of you can say the same?

      1. I also non voted for President.

      2. I can come close.

        I voted for Bob Barr, which is almost like a non-vote, and voted for Paul as well (my only vote on that ballot).

        1. For President I made a write-in vote of ‘no confidence’. Eventually he’s going to win. You just wait and see!

        2. My proposed constitutional amendment:

          “None of the Above” shal be a choice on every ballot for every federal office. If “None of the above” receives a plurality of votes, the office shall remain vacant until the next regular election.

  3. Maybe Obama is not in charge.

  4. […]kill any lingering hopes that President Obama would keep his campaign promise[…]

    I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find that he lied during his campaign.

    1. You mean the Fierce-Advocate-in-Chief sold people out? (faints)

  5. No doubt, the mainstream press will spin this as Obama “maturing” in office and “moving toward the middle,” thereby demonstrating his “political brilliance” and “gutsyness.”

    1. Raiding medical marijuana clinics, having the SEALS double tab Bin Ladin and then showing the pictures to his friends. That is what I call maturing as a statesman.

      1. It’s okay when OUR guy does it!

    2. It’s part of his four-dimensional Vulcan chess game.

  6. Like police are going to give up the power to break down doors, shoot family pets, tie people up, and steal their property at gunpoint.

    Otherwise they might have to go after criminals who break down doors, shoot family pets, tie people up, and steal their property at gunpoint.

  7. I would like to directly answer your question about my administration’s drug enforcement policies. Let me be clear: I killed Osama Bin Laden. Thank you.

    1. And here is my birth certificate.

      1. Ahem… how ’bout them floods?

      2. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

        Do or do not …. There is no try.

  8. What a shame Gregoire is such a pussy. She should have held a big signing ceremony, invited the US attorney and some DEA goons (who wouldn’t show, of course), signed the bill, and then gone to the DEA office and demand to be arrested.

    “C’mon, big man. Your capo said signing that bill would be a crime. Put the cuffs on, already. Do it!”

    1. Gregoire is also not planning on running again in 2012 and there’s pretty heavy speculation she’s got a cushy job lined up with the team Barry. Wouldn’t want to rock that boat. Sadly, this state will never vote for anything but team blue (although McKenna may surprise), so really it’s of no consequence to her to not support her constituency.

  9. The “States’ Rights” crowd in the Montana Legislature completely bent over and grabbed their ankles for the feds on medical marijuana.

    “It’s scaaaaaary!”

    “Yeah, and besides, they might take away our allowance if we don’t clean our room.”

    What a bunch of retards.

  10. “Our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.”
    Well it’s all inconsistent with federal law, so I guess they can go after anyone.

  11. The choice was legalize marijuana, or “create or save” jobs.

    Legalizing marijuana arguably killed more [public sector] jobs than it created in the private sector.

    The choice was a simple one for this administration. You do know that cops are union members, right?

  12. Not going after patients, huh? So I guess Angel Raich can expect her presidential apology any time now?

  13. Setting the stage for another argument about State’s Rights that will lead to another civil war anyone?

    1. Completely serious here – what if, say, New Hampshire declares its intent to secede from the Republic tomorrow? Or Texas is suddenly swept away by a huge wave of constitutionalism/libertarianism, elects a moral legislature (HOLY FUCK, MORAL POLITICIAS????), and does the same? What do you guys think would happen?

  14. I’m mostly a deontological libertarian, but utalitarianism has its moments.

    Thomas Jefferson for President in 2012!

  15. O-friggin’-bama needs to be run out of DC on a rail. How long, Oh Lord, How long?

  16. Actually, Obama is using the DEA so he doesn’t have to ditch the press to visit his dealer.

  17. It’s OK for Obama to personally take drugs, but us underlings get to go to jail. At least the continuity of this hypocrisy from the Bush days is maintained.

  18. Gee, the Obamanator says one thing while the people behind him do the complete opposite? Exactly how is this news?

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