Drug War

Obama Tries to Rewrite His History of Promising Forbearance for Medical Marijuana Suppliers


In a recent interview with Rolling Stone (noted earlier today by Mike Riggs), President Obama was asked to reconcile his administration's crackdown on medical marijuana with his promises of tolerance and noninterference in this area. His reply:

Here's what's up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana [dispensaries]—and the reason is, because it's against federal law. I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, "Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books." What I can say is, "Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage." As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only tension that's come up—and this gets hyped up a lot—is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, "This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way." 

Here's what's up: Obama is full of shit. During his campaign, it is true, he often referred to medical marijuana users. But he also promised to leave suppliers alone. Here he is in a May 2008 interview with Oregon's Willamette Week (emphasis added):

Would you stop the DEA's raids on Oregon medical marijuana growers?

I would because I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism.

Two months earlier, when he was asked about medical marijuana in an interview with another Oregon paper, the Mail Tribune, Obama said, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." If a U.S. attorney threatens to prosecute people who are explicitly authorized to supply medical marijuana under state law, as John Walsh has in Colorado, surely that counts as "us[ing] Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Furthermore, Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, repeatedly has promised prosecutorial forbearance for medical marijuana suppliers—not just patients—and he has done so explicitly as a fulfillment of his boss's promises and wishes, as I noted in my October cover story about Obama's drug policies: 

Attorney General Holder…claimed to be implementing Obama's promise to stop harassing state-sanctioned medical marijuana suppliers. "The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law,"Holder declared during a March 2009 session with reporters in Washington. "Given the limited resources that we have," he said during a visit to Albuquerque three months later, the Justice Department would focus on "large traffickers," not "organizations that are [distributing marijuana] in a way that is consistent with state law."…

Alarmed by [a DEA official's threats against dispensaries in Colorado], Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) asked Holder at a May 2010 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee whether they were "contrary to your stated policy." Yes, Holder said, "that would be inconsistent with the policy as we have set it out…if the entity is, in fact, operating consistent with state law and…does not have any of those factors" mentioned in the Ogden memo [such as "sales to minors," "sale of other controlled substances," and "financial and marketing activities" inconsistent with state law]. He said those criteria would determine "whether or not federal resources are going to be used to go after somebody who is dealing in marijuana."

Holder continued to offer such reassurances even after it became clear they did not amount to anything in practice. Last December, Rep. Polis again asked him specifically about medical marijuana providers (not patients) who comply with state law. Holder replied, "Where a state has taken a position, has passed a law, and people are acting in conformity with a law, not abusing the law but acting in conformity with it, and, again, given our limited resources, that would not be an enforcement priority for the Justice Department." Polis followed up with a question about bank deposits by "legal, regulated medical marijuana shops and dispensaries in Colorado." Holder gave the same response: "If…the people seeking to make the deposits are acting in conformity with state law, that would not, again, be an enforcement policy for the Justice Department."

Yet here is Obama saying, in the Rolling Stone interview, that he never promised to ease up on medical marijuana providers—only patients. As I said in my October article, that policy is indistinguishable from the Bush administration's. In fact, the Obama administration has in some ways been more aggressive in going after medical marijuana. That record cannot possibly be reconciled with Obama's promise to take a less meddlesome, more compassionate approach.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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  1. Assassinate citizens at will? Sho’. But use his increasingly dictatorial power to let sick people have access to a proven medicine? Out of the question.

    1. “Deference to Congress where deference is due! Now, excuse me while I declare war on Libya.”

  2. Obama’s a liar? What?!?

    Again, I ask any TEAM BLUE scum here to explain this. Please, I need a good guffaw.


    1. He can’t do anything until his second term!

    2. Buffet Rule!!!





      Now that you have been thoroughly pwnd, I’ll accept only your complete surrender.

    3. They always have an explanation, Epi: “The Republicans made him do it.”

      1. If he’s such a Republican tool, why do they vote for him? Do the Republicans make them do it?

        Any fucker who I encounter who makes these excuses for Obama is going to get their face rubbed in it, hard. I’ve fucking had it with partisan scum.

        1. Elections have consequences, pal. If you don’t like how the country is run then maybe you should work to get politicians you agree with in office.

          Now you just sound like a butthurt kochsucker that’s mad because a black guy got elected and not his racist reTHUGlican cronies.

          Somebody call the waaaaahmbulance for this Epissiarch guy.


          1. VOTE OR DIE

            1. See, I think that slogan was too indirect. If the Democrats want to win, they need a new slogan: “Vote for us or we’ll fucking kill you.”

              1. “Dead or alive, we’re getting your vote!”

          2. The General has no clothes.

          3. If you don’t like how the country is run then maybe you should work to get politicians you agree with in office.

            You mean, like all those Dems who voted for Obama because he was gonna close Gitmo, leave the medpot alone, etc.?

            1. R C Dean?

              More like R(a)C(ist) Butthurtthatablackguygotelected!

              Dude it’s 2012, WAKE UP!

              1. WTF is wrong with you? Christ what an idiot.

                1. Yeah, don’t even try talking to this R(a)C(ist) guy. He probably voted for Bush. Twice!


                  What a maroon!

                  *high fives*


                  1. Blow it out your ass, pig fucker. While I can’t speak for MiA, I’ve read RC’s posts for years and you a nothing but an ignorant troll.

                    1. Wooo, the sarcasm is lost on some people.

                    2. @Randian

                      Did you hear that giant “WHOOOOSH” sound as well. I though it was just me.

                    3. How much did the Kochs pay you to say that?

                      I hope it’s a tidy sum, because being a tool for the 1% shouldn’t come cheap!

                      If you post hateful garbage like that for free I feel sorry for you. I guess the applicable term would be ‘useful idiot’.

                    4. The sarcasm has gotten so meta, it’s folded back on itslef making a mobius strip of sarcasm.

                    5. Yeah right.


    5. It was the obstructionisms! It made him do it!

      1. “That’s how they do, you know! Just drive around listening to raps and shooting all the jobs.”

    6. Rush Limpdick and the Christian Talibans!

    7. Bush’s fault

  3. Jacob Sullum, you shut your fucking mouth! Who do you think you are to call My President “full of shit”? You are just a teabagging redneck, straight up.

    1. You know what’s sad? I actually thought it was him till i realized how you had spelled it.

  4. Here’s what’s up: Obama is full of shit.

    We can use this for every Obama-related article.

    1. It’s like bookends.

      Obama: “Here’s what’s up: blah, blah, blah…”

      Sullum: “Here’s what’s up: Obama is full of shit.”

      A finer response I can’t imagine.

  5. Campaign:

    “Yes we CAN!”

    4 years later:

    I can’t ask the Justice Department to say…

    Sucks to be the bottom to Holder’s top, don’t it O’bammy?

  6. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.”

    Unless say, it’s the Defense of Marriage Act, in which case he can do what whatever the fuck he wants.

    What a lying piece of shit this guy is.

    1. He’s worse than Dunphy.

      1. I can’t believe I am writing this…In dunphy’s defense, he is sometimes not that big a shit bag. He is even occasionally reasonable. Wow, that hurt worse than I thought it would.

        1. dunphy marinates in his context all day, just like we all do.

          His context happens to be on the other side of the blue wall, is all.

          He’s actually a valuable lesson in what happens to otherwise decent people when they are immersed in a toxic culture.

    2. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.”

      Actually, I think he can. And not just ask either. I think he can actually tell Holder: “Thou shalt not investigate or prosecute any person who is complying with state law on marijuana. So let it be written, so let it be done.”

      1. That’s what makes that statement so ridiculous. Not only can he do this, but he already has, as I mentioned with DOMA.

        The fact that he knows that no one will call him about it is probably the most depressing part. I’m not a big fan of Mitt, but I hope he throws fucking daggers at this guy win or lose.

        1. Even worse, couldn’t he just have the DEA and the FDA revise the Schedule? IIRC, they have that authority.

          1. I think the schedules are statutory.

            1. I think the procedures for scheduling are statutory, but it is a largely interpretive and discretionary activity with respect to those two agencies.

              I think, anyway.

  7. He’s lying, they’re still voting for him, Move On?

  8. Let me make this clear, both TEAM RED and TEAM BLUE pull this authoritarian shit all the time.

    …But. Team Blue, with their access to powerful media outlets and their smug insistence that theirs is the absolute truth, make for extremely satisfying punching bags.

    I mean, look at that Rolling Stone cover. Look at that polished, grinning, drug-warring, police-statist, corporatist thug, and tell me you don’t want to scream at the top of your lungs.

    1. But shrike tells me he’s just so likable, darn it.

  9. “I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism.”


    1. “preventing terrorism.”

      Translation: Preventing innocent people on the terrorist watch-list from lawfully owning a firearm.

  10. Oaksterdam!

  11. The commenters at Huffpo are falling into the Lawrence O’Donnell line: He’s totally going to legalize it early in his second term! Just give him the chance!

    1. Not exactly. What are you reading? Here are some excerpts from those that are up there now, these are the negative ones on the first page:

      Prohibition has never worked.

      Obama has gone from being the greatest hope for marijuana reform to the greatest disappointment, and is now officially the worst president in terms of interference with state medical marijuana laws.

      So he respects that people use marijuana for medical purposes, but he continues to raid the dispensaries that provide the medical marijuana for the people that need it.

      Pres, you’re making it harder and harder for me to support you this next election.

      So disappointed President Obama.
      You have dealt a low blow to cancer patients.
      We did not vote for this. Shame on you!

      All I want to do is grow my own Cannabis in my own home without breaking any laws.

      I stopped smoking pot many years ago but this issue still gets me riled up because the governments position is just so arbitrary and unreasonable and these unjust laws make us criminals for doing something that is not immoral or dangerous.

      Obama says he can’t ask the Justice Department to ignore federal law. Has he not done exactly that with the “Defense of Marriage Act”?

      1. Notice that all of these shitbirds are still going to pull the lever in November, though.

        1. Right, like this guy:

          Nothing about being payed off by Pharma and the Cartels. How lame. They are overreaching and going against the will of the people of the states they are “cracking down” on. Obama needs to go.

          or this one:

          The answer IS legalizing marijuana.
          Folk use it to decrease or end their dependency on pharmaceuticals both legal and illegal, end addiction to alcohol, tobacco, it makes people laugh and rejuvenates them for the next work day, it is HARMLESS compared to darned near EVERYTHING legal.

          GARY JOHNSON for 2012!
          Pick up Alan Grayson for VP!
          (I see sixteen years of great time rebuilding the Union away from the tyrants in DC.

      2. Pres, you’re making it harder and harder for me to support you this next election.

        …But not impossible. Because Austerity!

    2. I guess I just saw the early ones.

  12. Here’s what’s up: Obama is full of shit.

    Moreover, his minions think believe it’s really great shit.

  13. A real interview would have pressed him on some of these points…but then, if it were real journalism, it wouldn’t be the shitrag that is the Rolling Stone.

  14. I am going to mine the comments for some delicious, delicious cognitive dissonance. Oh look, here’s some now:


    It’s time for Obama to wake up and realize–we’re on to the right wing pandering agenda. And for him to STOP it. He’s a brilliant man. And to use this tact to increase his approval ratings with the right wing–is both futile and craven and if I’d wanted that I’d have voted for McCain/Palin.


    Even though you might disagree with some of the actions the Obama administration has done the past three and a half years, he’s going to be a helluva lot better than a Romney presidency. Also, I predict if he gets a second term, he’ll be a much more hard a** liberal and not be willing to compromise as much with Republicans.


    If you do not have time to read the whole interview; please be sure to read the last question and answer. It made me feel proud to have helped elect (with my vote) this President O’Bama.

    1. “Cognitive dissonance” implies cognitive activity. You are ignoring the very real possibility that they are just imbeciles.

    2. right wing pandering agenda

      Now that’s funny. I’m glad you guys are brave enough to wade through that cesspool because I sure as hell am not.

    3. 1. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.
      2. Sure, and giving Mussolini another term will let him get back to his syndicalist roots.
      3. Never trust the Irish. Especially Irish southerners.

    4. What’s with the apostrophe in O’Bama. Is it now “Barack “Irish” O’Bama”?

      He’s already black, we don’t need to make him Irish to generate white interest in a heavyweight bout.

  15. I also recall Obama saying we had to look forward not backward in regards to Bush administration illegalities, but I guess the same kind of logic does not apply to people who simply supply a product people want.

  16. Riiiiiight… More from the “cesspool” that is Huffpo (second current page):

    “What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana,” Obama said. “I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana … ”

    Here’s to those who continually said Obama had nothing to do with this crackdown. Playing both sides of the fence and hoping Read More…

    “prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.”

    The growers are not doing anything to damage people. The raids are. It’s pretty simple, really.


    Oh, but it’s the Blue Dogs who obstructed him, right?

    Obama won’t be “brave” and take a stand on this issue until 90% of the population is in agreement, even then he might not act and give PhARMA carte blanche to sell synthetic cannabinoids.

    Obama has been disappointing on personal liberty. He seems to be a big fan of the Patriot Act. Has done nothing to rein in TYSA. Has kept Gitmo open. And now this.

    And all he wants is further “debate” on the War on Drugs?

    Obama: “Listen, I’m not being a hypocrite when I do something that I said I would not do…Ooo, now look over here at this shiny thing I have–direct your focus over here!”

    1. And all he wants is further “debate” on the War on Drugs?

      Sure. While we be debatin’, he be rollin’.

  17. It looks like about 10-1 against Obama in the comment section, so I have no idea what you fuckers are reading.

    1. “Face it, Obama isn’t all we hoped for. He isn’t perfect in every way, like right here he’s wrong on marijuana. But on the whole, he is fighting the good fight and is a far better option than we’ve had in coming off a decade of disaster. He’s smart, can get the job done (bin laden?), and is a stand-up guy. He truly doesn’t believe that pot is ok, I disagree. But I’ll take him over anything the GOP puts up anyday.

  18. “I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.'”

    So……………….no more signing statements?

  19. “Here’s what’s up: Obama is full of shit.”

    Jacob, how do you really feel?

  20. “Here’s what’s up”!? Barack, you’re so hip it hurts.

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