Drug Policy

3 Reasons Obama Should End the Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

It's time for the president to keep his word.


Despite the best public relations efforts of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Center for American Progress, and Rolling Stone magazine, there's simply no way for President Barack Obama to cast his drug war record as anything other than what it is: A string of broken promises punctuated by condescension and mistruth.

In the course of three years, Obama has graduated from breaking his promise to end medical marijuana raids, to claiming he didn't promise to end medical marijuana raids, to claiming that he's upheld the promise that he didn't make. The only thing he's done consistently is give the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Attorneys Office carte blanche to continue George W. Bush-era crackdowns on local medical marijuana dispensaries. 

With election day nearing, Obama is facing more heat than ever before. The drug law reformers who hesitantly supported him in 2008 are furious. Coverage of his broken promise has spread from the alternative press to TIME magazine and the financial reporting agency Reuters. His own party is "disappointed." If those aren't enough reasons for Obama to make good on one of the promises that got him elected, here are three more. 

3.) Obama has the authority to redirect federal law enforcement priorities.

The Obama administration's favorite excuse for cracking down on the medical marijuana industry is that it has no choice but to keep cracking down. "I can't nullify congressional law," Obama told Rolling Stone. "Federal law is federal law," Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske told the Center for American Progress' Neera Tanden.

And yet, as Chris Weigant recently pointed out, Obama has plenty of discretion when it comes to enforcing federal law. The Department of Justice isn't defending the Defense of Marriage Act, didn't prosecute the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia, and is not going after former Bush administration officials for torture.

But an even better example is Obama's use of executive discretion on immigration policy. In June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton issued a memorandum titled, "Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens."

Here's anti-immigration lawmaker Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) describing that ICE memo at National Review Online: "The memos tell agency officials when to exercise 'prosecutorial discretion,' such as when to defer the removal of immigrants; when not to stop, question, arrest, or detain an immigrant; and when to dismiss a removal proceeding. The directives also tell officials not to seek to remove illegal immigrants who have been present illegally for many years."

While ICE hasn't followed that memo to the letter—and in fact still rips families apart on a regular basis—it has made extra-legal efforts to reduce deportation numbers, which is a testament to Obama's ability to ignore federal law when he feels like it.

2.) Democrats want him to stop cracking down on medical marijuana.

In the last two weeks, some of the biggest names in Democratic Party politics have chided Obama for his crackdown on medical marijuana. It started with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) skewering the president in an interview with The Hill on April 27.

"It's unfair and will hurt innocent people," Frank said. "I think it's bad politics and bad policy. I'm very disappointed. I think it's a grave mistake." Frank also told The Hill that he'd met with Obama personally to express his disappointment.

A week later, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a letter condemning raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. "I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana."

And then this week, a bipartisan group of 163 House members—composed largely of Democrats—pushed for an amendment to the DOJ's 2013 budget that would have defunded the Obama administration's raids on medical marijuana in states where it's legal. "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana," the amendment, which failed, read.

To quote comic Bill Engvall: "There's your sign."

1.) Obama said he would stop the federal crackown on medical marijuana.

One thing incumbents have that challengers generally don't is a list of promises kept. You can't say it often enough: Obama promised to do the drug war differently, but hasn't. 

In 2008, Obama said he believed the "basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs." He also said he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws."

Going back even further, to 2004, he said, "The war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws. We need to rethink how we're operating the drug war."

As Jacob Sullum wrote last year, "Obama's reversal on this issue is hard to reconcile with his avowed concerns about the drug war's disproportionate impact on minorities." It's also hard to reconcile with his own youthful pot smoking. "A misdemeanor marijuana conviction could have been a life-changing event for Obama, interrupting his education, impairing his job prospects, and derailing his political career before it began." 

It's also notable that unlike ObamaCare, various economic stimuli, unconstitutional recess appointments, and the no-fly zone in Libya, ending the crackdown on medical marijuana requires Obama to do absolutely nothing. He simply has to call off the U.S. Attorneys Office and the DEA—much the way he's called off ICE. Considering that Obama won office in part thanks to his drug reform promises, it's truly a mystery why he hasn't kept his word. 

Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter

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  1. How can Democrats want to legalize pot when they want to heavily tax and regulate every legal substance?

  2. Once again, you tease me with that delicious-looking herb while I’m at work.

    DAMN you, Mike Riggs! DAMN you!

    1. Must… have… brownies…

    2. I have a sudden craving for Cheetos.

    3. At least it is some descent looking nuggets to look at this time. A couple of weeks a ago they had a pic of some the yuckiest schwaggy looking schwag.

  3. It’s time for the president to keep his word.

    Not yet. But he’ll keep it after he’s re-elected. Promise!

  4. Gotta love the names they’re giving some of these varieties. In the last few months, I’ve samples Green Machine, Grape Ape, and Red Headed Stepchild.

  5. Apparently, legalizing Medical Marijuana hasn’t done anything for the price – or the pictured merchandise is top shelf.

    1. It’s both, actually.

      The prices are high AND they’re top shelf.

      But my point is that even for top shelf, the price is high.

      1. I thought the same, wondered if it was just regional. Apparently not. My guess is that, much like Spice and other herbal potpouri stuff, they’re competing against black market pot pricing.

        Right now, the only advantage med MJ users have is that they don’t have to hang out on some dark parking lot for 2 hours hoping that their guy shows up. That’s definitely something but I still think that, if pot were legal, retailers would have to compete against each other and home growers.

        Still just an artifact of prohibition.

  6. There’s a fourth reason, Riggs:

    (4) Simple human decency.

    1. Only the first of those three words describes those who staff the DEA and DOJ.

  7. I would add

    5) The people who would get hot under the collar because he ended the crackdown either are going to vote for him anyway, because they’d vote for a three-year-old corpse if it was on the Democrat ticket, or they aren’t going to vote for him even if he’s caught raising the dead.

  8. No. The number one reason always is: You don’t have the right to decide what I may put in my body.

    1. No career politician (and whatever Obama is, he is certainly that) gives a good goddamn about that particular reason, or even believes it for a minute.

  9. Obama apparently thinks whatever Joe Biden tells him to; maybe we should just get Joe Biden to tell the president to flip-flop on this one, too.

  10. I live in LA, and within the last two months my two favorite dispensaries have been shut down by LAPD. Both were very careful about following the law and even did more than was required of them. They had great prices for great bud. It’s a damned shame.

    1. RIP TCG & AEC

      1. Is that what happened to AEC? Ah too bad. Never went myself, as I used the one nearby, HOK.

  11. What’s your medical condition?

    1. if this is a reply to me, i have it for ADHD. not something most people think is appropriate, and yeah i’m kinda one of those bullshitty medical marijuana “patients” the anti-MM crowd likes to whine about. but i’m in college, i do have ADHD, and weed legitimately does help me focus on certain types of work, especially calculus and other math-based subjects, which as an economics major i run into a lot.

      1. I, umm, know a guy who used pot as a study aid. Did OK, too.

        1. Are you kidding me.

          Large swaths of graduate school as a medieval literature specialist REQUIRE pot in order to do. There is NO WAY one can write for 16 hours straight about word variants in manuscripts without weed.

          1. Caffeine got me through school, though it cost me: weaker stomach, heart. Part of the problem was too often using Excedrine, which is caffeine, aspirin, and tylenol for headaches as well. Not that any of that should be illegal, but why caffeine is legal but pot isn’t is a Swiftian mystery.

      2. Physics major here and agreed on the mathy stuff. Didn’t find that it made me any stupider than I already was.

        Look at Michael Phelps: what’s the argument there, that he’d already have 20 freaking Olympic medals if he could just push back from the bong? Seriously- if pot is so obviously a one-way ticket to demotivation and underperformance, wouldn’t people like Phelps already have smoked themselves into oblivion?

        I believe that the liberal argument against legalizing drugs is closely tied to the evil heart at the core of the liberal agenda: that We the Little People {[TM], (c), patent pending} exist to generate income for our less-than-able brothers and sisters. If you’re high, you’re not 100% productive.

        “From those according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

      3. Were you ever on Ritalin?

  12. Perhaps Obama has been told by his advisors that he’ll lose the mushy middle of America come election time if he legalizes medical marijuana.

  13. or detain an immigrant; and when to dismiss a removal proceeding. The directives also tell officials not to seek to http://www.nikewinkel.com/trai…..-c-58.html remove illegal immigrants who have been present illegally for many years.

  14. Some simple facts:

    * Prohibition has been a slow but relentless degradation (death by a zillion cuts) of all our cherished national institutions, that will leave us crippled for numerous generations.

    * The USA federal government is now the most dangerous and corrupt corporation on the planet.

    * Colombia, Peru, Mexico or Afghanistan with their coca leaves, marijuana buds or poppy sap are not igniting temptation in the minds of our weak, innocent citizens. These countries are duly responding to the enormous demand that comes from within our own borders. Invading or destroying these countries, thus creating more hate, violence, instability, injustice and corruption, will not fix our problem.

    * Just as it was impossible to prevent alcohol from being produced and used in the U.S. in the 1920s, so too, it is equally impossible to prevent any of the aforementioned drugs from being produced, distributed and widely used by those who desire to do so.

    * Prohibition kills more people and ruins more lives than the drugs it prohibits.

    * Due to Prohibition (historically proven to be an utter failure at every level), the availability of most of these mood-altering drugs has become so universal and unfettered that in any city of the civilized world, any one of us would be able to procure practically any drug we wish within an hour.

    1. I disagree with point two for one simple reason; no corporation could get away with half the cr*p the government pulls without facing a stockholder’s rebellion.

    2. You make way to much fuckin sense. You gotta be on drugs!

  15. Obama completely broke the promises he made on medical marijuana and the War on Drugs (oops, sorry, Public Health Approach on Drugs) that helped him get elected in 2008.

    I hope you gay marriage activists out there are paying very, very close attention to this…

  16. I don’t get it. What the fuck do these stupid feds think is going to happen?

    OK. So these pigs have managed to shut these shops down. There are a lot of state approved/sanctioned medical marijuana patients. They still need their weed and will go get it. And someone will still provide it. Now, instead of being under at least some semblence of a regulatory scheme and legitimacy, the budding economy is now shifted back to the black economy.

    Is that the point? So that they justify sending more troops to Honduras?

  17. The only thing that I dislike about medical marijuana is the dishonesty that goes into getting a medical card. Solid research suggests 80%+ of medical card holders don’t have true medical need for marijuana. I just wonder if it’s O.K. to lie to be allowed to use marijuana legally.

    I think marijuana should be legal for adult use. If it were, would there be such a thing as “medical marijuana?” I don’t think that the medical angle was the best way to get to legalization.

    1. I agree with you on both counts. The medical marijuana industry is a sham and, as a strategy, retards true drug policy reform.

  18. One point I seldom see addressed; The plant is indigenous to the Americas and only slightly easier to eradicate than poison ivy.

  19. Advocating for the selective enforcement of federal laws is a very slippery slope. If you think the law is wrong, work on reforming the law. Demanding selective enforcement of laws sets a dangerous precedent.

  20. You forgot the only reason that matters, I’m a free human being and no one has any right to tell me what to do as long as my actions do not involve the initiatory use of force.

  21. Asking Barrack Hussein Obama to keep his word (about anything) is like asking Hannibal Lector to become a vegetarian…it can’t be done. Once a liar, always a liar.

  22. I used to be in favor of having the almighty gubmint deregulate and decriminalize Cannabis, but I am now more inclined to have them just GTFO out of my life. They cannot effectively run ANYTHING! I’ll continue to grow and use my medicine and I don’t need a permission slip from a doctor or a politician. I am in California and we voted for Medical Cannabis years ago and all they’ve done is ignore our vote and arrest us. Eff ’em all.

  23. This is a great summary of this important issue. I recently wrote a detailed analysis entitled: “Obama Will Lose Millions of Supporters because of His Anti-Marijuana Rhetoric and Policies.” Find it at:


    Also check out how to make these changes happen in my article: “Occupy 4:20 for Civil Disobedience and Building Community.” Find it at:


    Time to Free the Weed and Free the People!!

  24. End this madness now!


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