California Medical Marijuana Crackdown Ramps Up As More Dispensaries Targeted For Closure
SAN FRANCISCO -- Several dozen protesters gathered in downtown Berkeley Wednesday afternoon to fight federal action against one of California's oldest medical marijuana dispensaries, targeted for closure by the Justice Department.
"The Obama administration's ongoing war against patients is despicable and has to stop," Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, told the crowd. "This is a mean, vindictive move aimed at shutting down one of the oldest and well-respected dispensaries in the country."
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag on Friday served pot shop Berkeley Patients Group with a lawsuit that attempts to seize the property and ultimately shut the business. Berkeley officials say the dispensary provides significant benefits to the community.
"BPG has served as a national model of the not-for-profit, services-based medical cannabis dispensary," Berkeley City Council member Darryl Moore said in a resolution opposing the lawsuit. "They have improved the lives and assisted the end-of-life transitions of thousands of patients; been significant donors to dozens of other organizations in our city; [and] shaped local, state and national policies around medical cannabis."
Berkeley Patients Group received a letter from Haag last year, claiming its location within 1,000 feet of a school broke state law. The operation later relocated, and the lawsuit makes no mention of its proximity to schools or violation of specific laws.
Dispensaries throughout northern California have received similar legal threats from the U.S. attorney over the past few weeks. San Francisco's Hemp Center and seven pot shops in San Jose all received letters warning of property seizures and prison sentences should they not shut down. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is reportedly investigating a handful of other San Francisco dispensaries.
"This round of U.S. attorney threat letters is just the latest move to undermine President Obama's repeated pledges that his federal government would respect state medical marijuana laws," Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell told The Huffington Post. "This is part of a continuing effort to try to intimidate the legal marijuana industry out of existence."
California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes when voters legalized Proposition 215 in 1996. Since then, medical marijuana has flourished statewide, generating upwards of $100 million in annual tax revenue.
But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Despite early promises to ignore states that had legalized it, the Obama administration launched an aggressive crackdown against California's cannabis operations in late 2011. Since then, hundreds of businesses have been forced to close and thousands of jobs have been lost.
In a further blow to the industry, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that cities have the authority to ban dispensaries outright.
Angell said he believes the crackdown comes from bureaucrats within the Justice Department who feel threatened by the growing national acceptance of marijuana. Washington and Colorado legalized recreational use last fall.
"Whoever is coordinating these attacks in the federal law enforcement apparatus is clearly terrified about what the increasing acceptance of a legal and regulated marijuana trade means for the drug war bureaucracy that employs them," Angell said.
A recent poll showed that a clear majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana if it would be taxed and regulated like alcohol.
Meanwhile, advocates said they hope to place a ballot measure that would legalize pot for recreational use before California voters in 2016. Elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have expressed their support.
"It seems clear that California is on pace to legalize marijuana for adult use," Angell said. "Hopefully more politicians will soon sense which way the wind is blowing and get in front of this issue before voters leave them behind."
In a speech in Mexico City on Friday, President Obama shut the door on any possibility that he'll support efforts in his second term to legalize certain recreational drugs.
“I’ve been asked, and I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer,” the president told a large gathering of young Mexicans at the city’s Anthropology Museum.
Polls show that more and more Americans favor ending the federal ban on pot. A handful of states in the U.S. have lifted legal restrictions on the drug in recent years — including Colorado and Washington — putting Obama in an awkward place. A pot smoker in his younger days, he must decide whether to instruct his Department of Justice to challenge those state laws, or to simply let them be.
The president likely felt it necessary to touch on drugs in his speech today since marijuana is a chief import from Mexico to the United States. It is also largely to blame for the rising swell of cartel violence that has killed thousands in Mexico over the years, and has occasionally spilled over into the southern U.S.
Obama said that his administration must focus on an all-encompassing strategy to deal with drug users at home, as well as figure out a way to reduce demand for drugs.
“We understand that much of the root cause of violence that’s been happening here in Mexico, for which many so Mexicans have suffered, is the demand for illegal drugs in the United States. And so we’ve got to continue to make progress on that front.”
He added that fixing the problem will require “a comprehensive approach — not just law enforcement, but education and prevention and treatment.”
Those words reflect the latest plan put forth by Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which essentially considers recreational drug use to be a public health issue. Rather than advocating for reforming drug users through jails and prisons, the plan calls for blending strong prevention techniques with effective rehabilitation programs in order to curb future drug use.
The Obama administration’s strategy, though, is somewhat controversial since it technically defines regular pot users as people with brain diseases — addiction, the administration says, is a brain disease. Scores of marijuana defenders, however, say that there is no proof that the drug is addictive.
Proposed MA DPH regulations regarding medical-marijuana patients and caregivers
Posted by MikeCann via MikeCann.net
To: Massachusetts Department of Public Health
From: Andy Gaus
Re: Proposed regulations regarding medical-marijuana patients and caregivers
Thank you for providing this forum to comment on the proposed DPH regulations on medical marijuana.
Two provisions in particular appear to make it virtually impossible for caregivers to provide the marijuana patients need while dispensaries are slowly organizing themselves:
1) Each caregiver must provide marijuana for only one patient.
2) The caregiver is not supposed to receive any compensation whatever from the patient for providing the marijuana.
Put these two provisions together, and very few people can practically step forward and become caregivers.
Bear in mind that growing marijuana indoors requires investing several hundred dollars in equipment to get started, paying high electrical bills in the ensuing months as well as ongoing costs for soil and fertilizer, and putting in hours of very real physical labor. If a patient grows for herself, these costs are repaid by the marijuana harvested and the relief it brings. But if a patient cannot grow for herself, the very considerable costs and burdens of producing the marijuana fall totally on the caregiver, with all compensation prohibited. This isn't just unfair: it has the practical effect of making it virtually impossible to be a caregiver, which means no one can help the person who cannot grow for herself. If you wish to limit the ability of a caregiver to profit from their cottage industry, you could set a maximum number of patients (but not a maximum of one), or a maximum price per ouince, or both. A limit of, say, 20 patients per caregiver and $100 per ounce would keep caregivers and their homes from turning into for-profit dispensaries but would not leave patients with no one to turn to during a long period when cities and towns are enacting moratoriums and potential dispensary operators are clearing numerous legal hurdles.
The provision that a patient must have no more than two total sources of marijuana is also unnecessarily onerous. If all providers are supposed to use a common state database, any user of the database should be able to verify that the same patient isn't filling the same prescription multiple times at different locations. If a further check is needed, patients could be issued something like a ration book.
One senses in all these regulations the underlying assumption that a set of air-tight regulations is both necessary and sufficient to prevent medical marijuana from being diverted to healthy recreational users, and that without such air-tight regulations, large-scale diversion is inevitable, with disastrous social consequences, particularly the increased availability to minors.
Let's be realistic: recreational users, including minors, already have total access to marijuana if they want it. Kids themselves, when surveyed, report that marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. Those who get their dope from dealers needn't fear being rejected as too young, and most of them get it, not from dealers, but from each other, in a vast informal network where everyone is both a user and a distributor. Likewise, almost all Massachusetts adults who wish to consume marijuana recreationally have found or could find a connection: marijuana prices have actually come down in recent years due to market saturation.
As officials responsible for public health, your first priority must be to make sure that patients who need marijuana for relief of painful and debilitating conditions can get it.
Minimizing diversion cannot be the main goal: it will never be effective for its stated purpose and is certain to cause unnecessary stress and pain for patients who need relief now and for the caregivers who would like to provide it .
Ads running to legalize marijuana in three states
By Carl Marcucci
In November, voters in Colorado, Washington and Oregon will consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Although similar initiatives have failed in the past, this time the groups fighting to legalize pot are well-organized, professional and backed by high-dollar donors willing to outspend the competition, reports Raycom News Network.
In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) has produced several ads that say marijuana is healthier than alcohol. The campaign’s website points to medical studies that claim marijuana, unlike alcohol, has not been linked to cancer, brain damage, addiction or high healthcare costs.
CRMLA was given nearly $1.2 million from the Marijuana Policy Project, a DC-based lobbying group, as well as more than $800,000 by Peter Lewis, the founder and chairman of Progressive Insurance. Lewis has been a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization for several years and donated millions to legalization efforts around the country.
In an online video ad campaign, CRMLA has young adults explaining to their parents they prefer marijuana to alcohol. In one of the ads, titled Dear Mom, a 20-something woman tells her mother marijuana is “better for my body, I don’t get hung-over and honestly I feel safer around marijuana users.”
In Washington, rather than comparing marijuana to alcohol, New Approach Washington (NAW) is focusing on legalization, arguing outlawing cannabis does more harm than good, by wasting tax dollars on law enforcement while letting gangs control the money. She describes the possible benefits of legalization through saved law enforcement dollars and extra tax revenue.
The TV spot has a professional/executive looking woman, “I don’t like it personally, but it’s time for a conversation about legalizing marijuana. It’s a multi-million dollar industry in Washington state, and we get no benefit.”
These efforts appear to be working. In Washington, 50% of voters say marijuana should be legal while 38% say it should not, according to an Elway Research poll. And in Colorado, a Denver Post poll showed 51% of Coloradans were in favor of legalization, while 41% opposed it.
In Washington, the effort to legalize marijuana is being fought with a bankroll of between $4 and $5 million, according to the Raycom News Network story. NAW used those funds to put $1 million into television advertising during August, and hope to put triple that amount into the weeks preceding the November vote.
In total, groups in Colorado fighting to get marijuana legalized have a war chest of $2.5 million.
The campaigns are especially targeting women ages 30 to 55, whom tend to be less supportive of legalization and regulation than men.
The only visible group opposing the marijuana ballot, SMART Colorado, has been given less than $200,000 – most of it from Save Our Society, a Florida-based anti-drug group.
RBR-TVBR observation: Interesting that the Chairman of Progressive Insurance is donating so much money in this legalization effort. Perhaps legalizing it would create fewer accidents/injuries from police chases and save the insurance industry money? We doubt drivers with the stuff in their car would try to flee if it’s no more illegal than a pack of cigarettes. Who knows, but Progressive is a big corporation and Lewis seems to not be concerned about sticking his neck out on this.
Medical pot advocates cool to Obama
Dan Freedman sfgate.com
The reason: Anger over the Obama Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries after Obama promised in the 2008 campaign that he would not use federal "resources to circumvent state laws on this issue."
"We're all bummed out about it," said Dale Gieringer, California coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Gieringer donated $2,300 to Obama in 2008. This year, Gieringer won't give Obama a dime, much less vote for him.
"If not for this issue, who to vote for would be a no-brainer," said Amanda Reiman, California policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The medical marijuana community was ecstatic when Obama was elected, but now four years later it feels like bait and switch."
Steve DeAngelo, whose Harborside Health Center in Oakland was selected for closure in July by U.S. attorney Melinda Haag, said that although he gave $500 to Obama in 2008 and got about 10 friends and family members to donate the same or more, he's not contributing this year and may not vote for him.
"It's hard for me to vote for someone who thinks I'm a criminal," he said.
Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher declined to comment.
Fewer donations this year
Quantifying the dollar value of medical marijuana donations to the Obama campaign is difficult, but the 2008 total was probably in the millions. The total this year appears to be substantially less.
Four years ago dispensaries were blossoming in California and other states such as Colorado. The business got a shot in the arm in 2009 when a Justice Department directive to U.S. attorneys reiterated Obama's campaign statement, telling them not to prioritize cases in which medical marijuana providers were acting in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state law.
But the prospect of a strengthening political and financial juggernaut was dashed last year when a subsequent Justice Department memo accused the industry of being more concerned with profits than serving medical patients.
Since that second directive was issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in June 2011, U.S. attorneys have written letters to landlords ordering them to cancel leases with dispensaries, the IRS has told operators they can't take normal business deductions, and banks under pressure from Washington have closed dispensary accounts.
At their height before the raids, dispensaries employed about 20,000 people and paid $125 million in taxes on revenue of $1 billion or more, said George Mull, a Sacramento lawyer who heads the California Cannabis Association. Of the 1,000 or so outlets, only 400 to 500 remain open, he said.
Displeasure among cannabis entrepreneurs is almost certainly not enough to dent the president's campaign fund or keep California's whopping 55 electoral votes from the Obama column on election day.
But Colorado is a battleground state. With Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson - who supports marijuana legalization - polling in the 4 to 6 percent range, the marijuana vote could make a difference.
"Comparing us to drug dealers is insulting, upsetting and wrong," said Wanda James, who closed her Denver marijuana edibles business and laid off 20 employees in August when she lost her bank account.
No support from Romney
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has made no secret of his antipathy to marijuana. GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said states should decide the issue for themselves, but campaign operatives subsequently insisted Ryan agrees with Romney that marijuana should remain illegal.
Romney's position leads some advocates and entrepreneurs to see Obama as the lesser of two evils.
"People who care about medical marijuana are torn between disappointment and disaster," said Ethan Nadelmann of New York, director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Obama Should "Evolve" on Marijuana
Here's a radical thought, as we change full-steam into convention season: Could the "marijuana vote" propel Barack Obama to victory in the upcoming election? This may sound a little far-fetched (and might indeed provoke "What are you smoking, dude?" sorts of comments) so please allow me to explain how this demographic could become key to the entire election, in one particular state.
The conventional wisdom among the inside-the-Beltway pundit class seems to currently be gelling around this year's oversimplification of the American voting public: 2012 will be a "base" election (as opposed to a "swing vote" election). Polling between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney seems to indicate that almost everyone has already made up their minds, and the pool of "undecided" voters has shrunk to five percent or less. What this could mean is both candidates spending the rest of the election firing up their base and concentrating on "get out the vote" efforts. What it might also mean during the conventions is both candidates tossing red meat to their base with abandon, in an effort to generate a wave of enthusiasm which could carry the day in November.
There are ten or twelve "battleground" states which will decide the vote in the Electoral College. But while many are focusing on the East Coast swing states, Colorado may actually become the tipping point state. Here is one scenario for how this could happen (there are other ways to map this out, but this seemed the most plausible for now): Barack Obama picks up swing states Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Hampshire -- but loses Missouri, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio to Mitt Romney. Colorado would then become the deciding state, with Barack Obama having only 263 electoral votes to Romney's 266. Add Colorado's nine votes to either side of that equation, and it equals the keys to the Oval Office.
Colorado, it bears noting, has an initiative on their ballot this year to legalize marijuana for all adults. Not just for medical purposes, but also for recreational purposes. Marijuana would be regulated and taxed much like alcohol and cigarettes currently are if Amendment 64 passes.
Polling on marijuana initiatives is notoriously difficult, and often unreliable come election day. Having said that, so far the initiative seems to be doing fairly well among the public. Rasmussen polled on the question at the beginning of June and came up with 61 percent in favor, 27 percent opposed, and 12 percent undecided. More recently, PPP released a poll which showed the gap to be much closer, at 47 percent for, 38 percent against, and 15 percent undecided.
Breaking these numbers down, there are two noticeable demographics which favor the measure in both polls: young people and independent voters. Roughly six in ten people under the age of 40 support legalization. While Democrats and self-identified liberals support the measure overwhelmingly, and conservatives and Republicans are against the amendment in similar proportions, the data on independent or moderate voters could be significant. In the PPP poll, moderates were for the measure 50-32, and in Rasmussen's poll were overwhelmingly for the idea, 67-15. Independent voters (no party affiliation) were even more lopsided, at 69-17 support in Rasmussen, and 58-28 support in PPP.
What is interesting about the legalization amendment is not only the "wedge issue" nature of it, but also the fact that there may be quite a few "single-issue" voters out there who turn out to the polls just to cast a vote on Amendment 64. These are also the voters that Obama is having problems reenergizing in 2012. The youth vote was overwhelmingly big in 2008, but young folks seem to be not paying much attention to politics this time around.
President Obama could energize the youth vote and give a lot of Colorado independents a solid reason to vote for him by announcing during his convention speech that his thinking has "evolved" on the question of marijuana. At the beginning of his term, he seemed to be following through on his campaign promise to leave medical marijuana providers alone as long as they were following applicable state laws. Roughly two years in, this policy was quietly reversed and the Justice Department is now cracking down in multiple states where medical marijuana is legal -- to an extent not even the Bush administration did. This year alone, over 40 dispensaries in Colorado have been raided by the Obama administration, even though they were following their state's laws. This has outraged many medical marijuana supporters across the country -- some of whom are adamant that they will not vote for Obama again.
Obama could win these voters back, by announcing during his convention speech "I have authorized Attorney General Holder to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II controlled dangerous substance, and by doing so will end all federal action against medical marijuana providers, and allow the medical usage of marijuana in any state where the voters choose to approve this. Furthermore, if Colorado approves the legalization of marijuana for all adults to use, I promise that the federal government will not fight this new state law."
This would indeed be a bold and risky stance for Obama to take. The polling in Colorado might be overly optimistic, and if Amendment 64 is defeated, he may actually hurt his chances for winning the state. Obama has always been extremely sensitive on the issue of marijuana, perhaps because he thinks he's vulnerable politically for having admitted marijuana use in his past.
But -- not unlike gay marriage -- times are changing. More and more of the public is currently evolving their own thinking on the marijuana issue. Medical marijuana has higher and higher support (no pun intended), and keeps winning in state after state (much like the route civil unions took). Support for outright legalization stands now at roughly half of the public (almost exactly the same as gay marriage support). There are political risks in Obama throwing his support behind the pro-marijuana movement -- but then there were risks to his stance on gay marriage, as well.
If this is truly going to be a "base" election, then Obama will need to excite Democratic groups who might not bother to vote this time around. He has already taken steps to raise enthusiasm among gay rights supporters, Latinos and women. Even so, the polling in Colorado remains neck and neck for Obama. Obama announcing a change in his marijuana policy would not only motivate voters in states across the country, it could also provide the winning edge in a state that might wind up being the crucial must-win state for Obama. Evolving on marijuana could provide the enthusiasm he needs to win Colorado in November -- which might just be the key to winning a second term.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Colorado vote on marijuana could impact Obama-Romney race
Classic fox....what about Paul? -UA
Whether to legalize marijuana will be on the Colorado ballot in November. President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney have identical stances on pot legalization -- they oppose it. And neither is comfortable talking about it.
Yet Obama and Romney find themselves unwittingly ensnared in the legalization debate -- and both may want to take it more seriously if their race in Colorado is close.
With Colorado politically divided and home to a huge number of independent voters, Obama and Romney are devoting money and manpower to winning its nine electoral votes.
The November ballot question asking Coloradans to legalize marijuana cuts two ways for Obama. It could draw younger voters to the polls, boosting the president and down-ticket Democrats. It also highlights the Obama administration's conflicting signals on states that buck the federal marijuana ban.
Legalization activists are a small but passionate group, and there are signs that some who turned out in large numbers here to campaign for Obama in 2008 have soured on the president, in no small part because of dismal employment prospects for younger workers.
Obama ran into Colorado's roiling pot controversy in April, when he spoke at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He received thunderous cheers when he walked on stage, but when he started with an innocuous thanks to the university chancellor, many students booed. That's because a week before, the chancellor had shut down a large pro-marijuana protest on campus.
On a late-night television interview with Jimmy Fallon that aired the same night, Obama laughed off a question about marijuana legalization. "We're not going to be legalizing weed -- or what -- anytime soon," the president said.
Obama has conceded he used marijuana and cocaine while he was college-age and called their use "bad decisions." An Obama biography to be published this month from David Maraniss of The Washington Post says Obama used pot in high school too, smoking with basketball buddies in a group that called themselves the "Choom Gang."
Romney has never smoked pot or used illegal drugs, a campaign spokeswoman said, and he has called marijuana a "gateway drug." He recently stumbled into the marijuana debate when he visited an oil rig in northeast Colorado and was visibly taken aback when a Denver TV reporter asked him about marijuana.
"Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney replied, his smile not hiding his annoyance.
Activists say the candidates are wrong to overlook the possible importance of marijuana on Colorado ballots.
"The cannabis supporters that I run into throughout the state are very active, they're enthused, they want to see change and they're willing to make it happen. And if I were the president, I'd really want that enthusiasm," said Boulder lawyer Lenny Frieling, chairman of the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Frieling is a Democrat who supports Obama and donated to his campaign in 2008. But this time, Frieling says, he's sending his money to local candidates in Colorado and elsewhere who are firmly in the pro-legalization camp. He says he'll still vote for Obama -- but he's not giving him more money.
"Obama is just troubling, his switching positions," Frieling said.
That was a reference to a 2009 letter from Obama's attorney general stating that federal law enforcement would generally ignore marijuana users who comply with state pot laws. Yet, in 2012 alone, federal authorities have shut down more than 40 Colorado marijuana dispensaries, even though the dispensaries were complying with state and local law.
Another activist who organizes campaigns on local marijuana ballot questions in Colorado, James McVaney of Larkspur, says he and like-minded young activists support Obama but are less willing to volunteer for his campaign this year, focusing their energies on the marijuana initiative instead.
"I'm for legalization over Obama," McVaney said.
Colorado's past suggests that in extremely close contests, Democrats could benefit when pot is on the ballot.
In 2006, voters overwhelmingly rejected pot legalization. But in the same election, Democrat Bill Ritter was elected after eight years of Republican rule in the governor's office, and a couple of narrow victories for Democrats to the state Legislature coincided with areas where pot activists registered dozens of young voters.
Washington and other states may see marijuana legalization on ballots this fall, but no other state considered a presidential battleground is likely to.
New Book Exposes Obama’s Choom (Marijuana) Gang
A review of Washington Post associate editor David Maraniss’ forthcoming book “Barack Obama: The Story,” has generated renewed talk on Obama’s pot-smoking past as it included an excerpt about the Commander in Chief’s circle of friends, which nicknamed themselves the “Choom Gang.”
In the book, Maraniss details how Obama spent a lot of time at the Punahou School in Hawaii with a “self-selected group of boys who loved basketball and good times and called themselves the Choom Gang. Choom is a verb, meaning “to smoke marijuana.”
“As a member of the Choom Gang,” Maraniss writes, “Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends.” One of those was: “Total Absorption” or “TA.” “TA was the opposite of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled,” explains Maraniss. If you exhaled prematurely when you were with the Choom Gang, “you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around.”
Maraniss further states that Obama was known for his “interceptions,” which involved him elbowing his way in, out of turn when a joint was being passed around, shouting “Intercepted!” and taking an extra hit.” In addition, the author noted how Obama helped popularize a concept known as “roof hits.”
“When they were chooming in a car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.”
Although “most members of the Choom Gang” went on to successful careers as writers, lawyers and businessmen, the same could not be said about the group’s drug dealer, Ray, who was killed a scorned gay lover. Maraniss wrote that Obama acknowledged Ray in a high school yearbook, but not his own mother as the politician wrote “Thanks Tut, Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray,” Obama wrote, “for all the good times.”
David Maraniss’ “Barack Obama: The Story,” is set to hit stores on June 19.
Marijuana Legalization vs. Gay Marriage: Obama's Hypocrisy on States' Rights
In a now-familiar story of drug war overkill, D.C.-based hemp store Capitol Hemp will shutter the doors of its two locations in response to a government raid of their premises. In addition to clothing and toiletries made from industrial hemp, Capitol Hemp sells artisan glass pipes that could be used to smoke either tobacco or hemp’s notorious and illegal cousin, marijuana. Because the store also sold books advocating marijuana legalization, the pipes were deemed illegal “drug paraphernalia” by federal prosecutors.
Capitol Hemp does not sell marijuana, although marijuana for medicinal use is legal in the District of Columbia. Federal agencies and prosecutors, however, are not bound by state or local law and can continue to harass or indict small businesses that operate on the fringe of American drug policy. In an apparent break from prior internal guidelines, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has led a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, going as far as giving Californian businesses an ultimatum to shut down or face federal criminal charges.
This naked attack on duly-enacted state policies stands in stark contrast to President Obama’s recent pronouncement that states ought to be able decide their own course when it comes to persecuting gays.
Federalism is the sensible proposition that the federal government should transfer more responsibility to state governments, which are closer to the people and are therefore better able to serve the democratic public. But there is no defensible principle of federalism that would justify, on the one hand, relentlessly suppressing state-led drug tolerance while, on the other hand, endorsing a state-led attack on civil rights. The localized effects of the drug trade make it suited for local enforcement and policymaking, while the national import of civil rights — and America’s history of state-led discrimination of racial minorities — caution against a preference for federalism in the civil rights context.
President Obama’s inconsistent policy of federalism is devoid of logic, but is rife with political opportunism. The Obama administration can claim federal supremacy when it comes to its domineering obstruction of local drug policy, but it can sound the trumpet of federalism to avoid alienating any independents while it placates supporters of gay marriage.
This sort of “pragmatism” may make for a shrewd campaign strategy, but it leads to an incoherent and unpredictable federal policy that provides little guidance to citizens trying to make an honest living in compliance with the law. Established businesses like Capitol Hemp are left guessing whether their operations are legal or if federal officials will decide to prosecute them.
People should not live at the mercy of the President's whims. Rather than decide federalism on a politically motivated case-by-case basis, President Obama should implement a principled policy that rationally distributes authority between federal and state policymakers.