Writing in The New York Times, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, slams the Obama administration's crackdown on medical marijuana:
When he ran for president, Barack Obama defended the medical use of marijuana and said that he would not use Justice Department resources to override state laws on the issue. He appeared to make good on this commitment in October 2009, when the Justice Department directed federal prosecutors not to focus their efforts on "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."
But over the past year, federal authorities appear to have done everything in their power to undermine state and local regulation of medical marijuana and to create uncertainty, fear and confusion among those in the industry. The president needs to reassert himself to ensure that his original policy is implemented….
At the federal level, there have been few voices of protest. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill shy away from speaking out. Republicans mostly ignore the extent to which anti-marijuana zealotry threatens core conservative values like states' rights, property rights and gun ownership.
Mr. Obama…needs to show leadership and intervene now, to encourage and defend responsible state and local regulation of medical marijuana.
Don't hold your breath. At last week's International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles (sponsored by Nadelmann's organization), panelists discussing the future of medical marijuana in California were divided on the question of whether to lobby the legislature for a new law that would clarify the rules for supplying cannabis or instead try to accomplish that goal via a 2012 ballot initiative. No one held out any hope that Obama could be persuaded to keep his promise by restraining the Justice Department and letting California formulate and enforce its own policies in this area. Changing California's law to explicitly authorize growers and dispensaries should help avoid trouble with marijuana-hostile local officials such as Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. But given Obama's perfidy, it's not clear that new legislation will offer any protection from federal raids, forfeiture, and prosecution.
In Colorado, which recently began licensing dispensaries, U.S. Attorney John Walsh seems more inclined to respect state law than his colleagues in California. Walsh is one of the U.S. attorneys who earlier this year sent letters to local and state officials warning that the Justice Department has the authority to prosecute medical marijuana suppliers even when they comply with state law. But a Colorado activist who attended last week's conference said Walsh so far has been careful to cooperate with the Colorado Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Division. Although the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's office in Denver has suggested that his agency pays no mind to state law, the activist said the feds in Colorado have not actually targeted any operations that were "in clear and unambiguous compliance." Barring the unlikely presidential intervention Nadelmann is seeking, it looks like any forbearance enjoyed by medical marijuana suppliers will continue to depend on the whims of federal officials in each state.
More on Obama's medical marijuana reversal here.