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:
Wake Up Obama: Medical Marijuana Patients Are Voters
This is a photo of me at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. I had just heard one of the most politically motivating speeches of my life from a candidate for president. I was moved to tears, joyous, and inspired. This candidate not only filled me with hope about the future of our nation, but said he would not interfere with access to legal medical cannabis.
As Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), I was ecstatic to be shedding the dark days of the Bush Administration's war on medical cannabis patients. As a patient myself, I felt counted and part of the Change that would be coming to Washington, and I was proud to support and volunteer for Barack Obama's victorious campaign.
For his 2008 campaign, I donated money, I went to rallies to show support, I knocked on doors in VA, and on election night I joined thousands in D.C. who descended on the White House to celebrate and sing "Na, Na, Na, Na, Good bye" to President Bush. I went to sleep that night excited about a new direction for this country that would include me as a recognized medical cannabis patient.
From the beginning, the new administration made supportive statements about medical cannabis, including that the President was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws." On October 19, 2009, we got the policy document we had been waiting for. Then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum, now know as the "Ogden Memo," instructing U.S. attorneys to limit marijuana enforcement to those operating out of compliance with state law.
With this legal guidance, the medical cannabis movement went to work to pass new state laws protecting patients and those who provided their medication. Advocates, community members and officials spent thousands of hours drafting legislation and regulations in at least eleven states. But when legislators and other state and local officials came close to passing or implementing these laws, they received letters from U.S. attorneys, threatening federal arrest and prosecution.
Dismayed by this apparent reversal in the Obama Administration's policy, patients demanded the president rein in the US Attorneys. Instead we got the "Cole Memo," issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, laying out a new interpretation of the Obama Administration's policy. The memo gave the Justice Department free rein in medical cannabis states, to undermine state laws and coerce local lawmakers. The Cole Memo launched an unprecedented attack on the medical cannabis community unprecedented in its scope.
In fewer then fours years of President Obama, we have seen more raids on dispensaries than during the Bush Administration's entire eight-year tenure. The Obama Administration has taken property from landlords, threatened local officials, forced the release of patient records, used the Internal Revenue Service to bankrupt legitimate dispensaries, told banks to purge medical cannabis clients, evicted patients from low-income housing and denied a petition to recognize the well-established medical value of cannabis.
Now as President Obama approaches the vote on his reelection, other medical cannabis patients and I are finding it impossible to renew our support. How can I vote for someone who has broken his promise? How can I vote for someone who can't see very real public health needs? How can I vote for someone who wages war on my fellow patients and me?
There are more than one million legal medical cannabis patients across the country and millions more waiting to become legal. We have friends and family in every state, and there are many of us in states that are key to the Obama reelection campaign: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
I care a lot about this country and my fellow Americans, and I have always volunteered for candidates during election years. Now, instead of going to rallies or buying tickets to fundraisers, I will be protesting at campaign stops like the one today in downtown Oakland. Instead of working to elect a president, I'll be joining thousands of medical cannabis advocates at Camp Wakeupobama, a virtual summer camp during which we will press our case to the President.
President Obama, you can move medical cannabis policy forward and win this election -- 74% of voters disagree with your attacks on state compassionate use laws.
Medical cannabis patients will be on the campaign trail, however you can still determine what our signs will say.
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.
Obama's War on Pot
In a shocking about-face, the administration has launched a government-wide crackdown on medical marijuana
by: Tim Dickinson
Back when he was running for president in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that medical marijuana was an issue best left to state and local governments. "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," he vowed, promising an end to the Bush administration's high-profile raids on providers of medical pot, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia.
But over the past year, the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multiagency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush. The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana. With more than 100 raids on pot dispensaries during his first three years, Obama is now on pace to exceed Bush's record for medical-marijuana busts. "There's no question that Obama's the worst president on medical marijuana," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "He's gone from first to worst."
The federal crackdown imperils the medical care of the estimated 730,000 patients nationwide – many of them seriously ill or dying – who rely on state-sanctioned marijuana recommended by their doctors. In addition, drug experts warn, the White House's war on law-abiding providers of medical marijuana will only drum up business for real criminals. "The administration is going after legal dispensaries and state and local authorities in ways that are going to push this stuff back underground again," says Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a former Republican senator who has urged the DEA to legalize medical marijuana, pulls no punches in describing the state of affairs produced by Obama's efforts to circumvent state law: "Utter chaos."
In its first two years, the Obama administration took a refreshingly sane approach to medical marijuana. Shortly after Obama took office, a senior drug-enforcement official pledged to Rolling Stone that the question of whether marijuana is medicine would now be determined by science, "not ideology." In March 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that the Justice Department would only target medical-marijuana providers "who violate both federal and state law." The next morning, a headline in The New York Times read OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO STOP RAIDS ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSERS. While all forms of marijuana would remain strictly illegal under federal law – the DEA ranks cannabis as a Schedule I drug, on par with heroin – the feds would respect state protections for providers of medical pot. Framing the Obama administration's new approach, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske famously declared, "We're not at war with people in this country."
That original hands-off policy was codified in a Justice Department memo written in October 2009 by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. The so-called "Ogden memo" advised federal law-enforcement officials that the "rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources" meant that medical-marijuana patients and their "caregivers" who operate in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law" could be left alone.
At the same time, Ogden was concerned that the feds not "be made a fool of" by illegal drug traffickers. In that vein, his memo advised U.S. attorneys to focus on going after pot dispensaries that posed as medicinal but were actively engaged in criminal acts, such as selling to minors, possession of illegal firearms or money-laundering. The idea, as Holder put it, was to raid only those hardcore traffickers who "use medical-marijuana laws as a shield."
The Ogden memo sent a clear message to the states: The feds will only intervene if you allow pot dispensaries to operate as a front for criminal activity. States from New Mexico to Maine moved quickly to license and regulate dispensaries through their state health departments – giving medical marijuana unprecedented legitimacy. In California, which had allowed "caregivers" to operate dispensaries, medical pot blossomed into a $1.3 billion enterprise – shielded from federal blowback by the Ogden memo.
The administration's recognition of medical cannabis reached its high-water mark in July 2010, when the Department of Veterans Affairs validated it as a legitimate course of treatment for soldiers returning from the front lines. But it didn't take long for the fragile federal detente to begin to collapse. The reversal began at the Drug Enforcement Agency with Michele Leonhart, a holdover from the Bush administration who was renominated by Obama to head the DEA. An anti-medical-marijuana hard-liner, Leonhart had been rebuked in 2008 by House Judiciary chairman John Conyers for targeting dispensaries with tactics "typically reserved for the worst drug traffickers and kingpins." Her views on the larger drug war are so perverse, in fact, that last year she cited the slaughter of nearly 1,000 Mexican children by the drug cartels as a counterintuitive "sign of success in the fight against drugs."
In January 2011, weeks after Leonhart was confirmed, her agency updated a paper called "The DEA Position on Marijuana." With subject headings like THE FALLACY OF MARIJUANA FOR MEDICINAL USE and SMOKED MARIJUANA IS NOT MEDICINE, the paper simply regurgitated the Bush administration's ideological stance, in an attempt to walk back the Ogden memo. Sounding like Glenn Beck, the DEA even blamed "George Soros" and "a few billionaires, not broad grassroots support" for sustaining the medical-marijuana movement – even though polls show that 70 percent of Americans approve of medical pot.
Almost immediately, federal prosecutors went on the attack. Their first target: the city of Oakland, where local officials had moved to raise millions in taxes by licensing high-tech indoor facilities for growing medical marijuana. A month after the DEA issued its hard-line position, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag warned the city that the feds were weighing "criminal prosecution" against the proposed pot operations. Abandoning the Ogden memo's protections for state-sanctioned "caregivers," Haag effectively re-declared war on medical pot. "We will enforce the Controlled Substances Act vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana," she wrote, "even if such activities are permitted under state law." Haag's warning shot had the desired effect: Oakland quickly scuttled its plans, even though the taxes provided by the indoor grows could have single-handedly wiped out the city's $31 million deficit.
Two months later, federal prosecutors in Washington state went even further, threatening state employees responsible for implementing new regulations for pot dispensaries. U.S. attorneys sent a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire, warning that state employees "would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act." Shocked by the threat – "It subjected Washington state employees to felony criminal prosecution!" – Gregoire vetoed the new rules. A similar federal threat in Rhode Island forced Chafee to follow suit, putting an indefinite hold on the planned opening of three state-licensed "compassion centers" to distribute marijuana to seriously ill patients.
In isolation, such moves might be seen as the work of overzealous U.S. attorneys, who operate with considerable autonomy. But last June, the Justice Department effectively declared that it was returning to the Bush administration's hard-line stance on medical marijuana. James Cole, who had replaced Ogden as deputy attorney general, wrote a memo revoking his predecessor's deference to states on the definition of "caregiver." The term, Cole insisted, applied only to "individuals providing care to individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses, not commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana." Pot dispensaries, in short, were once again prime federal targets, even if they were following state law to the letter. "The Cole memo basically adopted the Bush policy," says Kampia, "which was only that the Justice Department will not go after individual patients."
In reality, however, the Obama administration has also put patients in the cross hairs. Last September, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms moved to deprive Americans who use medical marijuana of their gun rights. In an open letter to gun sellers, the ATF warned that it is unlawful to sell "any firearm or ammunition" to "any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for me dicinal purposes." If your doctor advises you to use medicinal pot, in other words, you can no longer legally own a gun. Hunting advocates were outraged. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, wrote a furious letter calling on the Justice Department to reassess its "chilling" policy, declaring it "unacceptable that law-abiding citizens would be stripped of their Second Amendment rights."
Since the federal crackdown began last year, the DEA has raided dozens of medical-cannabis dispensaries from Michigan to Montana. Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, claims the federal action is necessary because the state's legalized pot dispensaries have been "hijacked by profiteers" who are nothing more than criminals.
It's true that California has no shortage of illegal pot dealers. Nonmedical marijuana is the state's largest cash crop, raking in an estimated $14 billion a year. And demand is growing, in part because former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger thwarted a ballot measure aimed at full legalization in 2010 by removing criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of pot. But instead of focusing limited federal resources on off-the-grid growers in places like Humboldt County, who are often armed and violent, Haag targeted Matthew Cohen, a medical-marijuana farmer in Mendocino who was growing 99 plants under the direct supervision of the county sheriff. As part of a pioneering collaboration with local law enforcement, Cohen marked each of his plants with county-supplied tags, had his secured facility inspected and distributed the marijuana he grew directly to patients in his nonprofit collective.
Cohen appeared to be precisely the kind of caregiver that the Ogden memo advised should be given safe harbor for operating in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law." But last October, DEA agents stormed Cohen's farm in the middle of the night and cut down his crop. Sheriff Tom Allman, who learned of the raid on his turf only an hour before it was executed, was outraged. "Matt Cohen was not in violation of any state or local ordinances when federal agents arrived at his location," Allman says. In January, Haag took the fight to the next level, threatening county officials like Allman with federal sanctions. Three weeks later, county supervisors voted to abandon the program to license and monitor Mendocino's legal growers. "This is a huge step backward," says Allman.
Haag's treatment of urban dispensaries has been equally ham-handed. She recently shuttered one of the oldest dispensaries in the state, a nonprofit that serves a high percentage of female patients in Marin County, which has the nation's highest rate of breast cancer. She has threatened to seize the properties that landlords rent to legal pot dispensaries. And in San Francisco, she targeted Divinity Tree, a cooperative run by a quadriplegic who himself relies on prescribed cannabis for relief from near-constant muscle spasms. At a time of high unemployment and huge budget deficits, the move killed more than a dozen jobs and deprived the state of $180,000 in annual tax revenue. In San Diego alone, the feds have shut down nearly two-thirds of the county's dispensaries. Statewide, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union estimates, the federal crackdown has destroyed some 2,500 jobs in California. It also sent street prices soaring by at least 20 percent, putting more money in the hands of actual criminals.
In addition, the federal war on medical marijuana has locked pot dispensaries out of the banking system – especially in Colorado, home to the nation's second-largest market for medicinal cannabis. Top banks – including Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America – are refusing to do business with state-licensed dispensaries, for fear of federal prosecution for money-laundering and other federal drug crimes. In a House hearing in December, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado warned Attorney General Holder that strong-arming banks will actually raise the likelihood of crime. If pot dispensaries have to work outside the normal financial system, Polis told Holder, "it makes the industry harder for the state to track, to tax, to regulate them, and in fact makes it prone to robberies, because it becomes a cash business."
The IRS has also joined in the administration's assault on pot dispensaries, seeking to deny them standard tax deductions enjoyed by all other businesses. Invoking an obscure provision of the tax code meant to trip up drug kingpins, the IRS now maintains that pot dispensaries can deduct only one expense – ironically, the cost of the marijuana itself. All other normal costs of doing business – including employee salaries and benefits, rent, equipment, electricity and water – have been denied.
The agency has used the provision to go after Harborside Health Center, one of the largest and most respected providers of medical cannabis in California. Its Oakland branch, serving 83,000 patients in conforming with state law, paid more than $1 million in city taxes last year – placing it in the top 10 percent of local businesses. "It's incredibly tightly run and very, very professional," says Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But it's also big – and it may be that big is bad as far as the feds are concerned." Slapped with an IRS bill for $2.5 million in back taxes, Harborside now faces bankruptcy. "It's profoundly inaccurate to characterize us as a 'drug-trafficking' organization," says Harborside president Steve DeAngelo. "We are a nonprofit community-service organization that helps sick and suffering people get the medicine they need to be well. This is not an attempt to tax us – it's an attempt to tax us out of existence."
Supporters of medical marijuana are baffled by Obama's abrupt about-face on the issue. Some blame the federal crackdown not on the president, but on career drug warriors determined to go after medical pot. "I don't think the federal onslaught is being driven by the highest levels of the White House," says Nadelmann. "What we need is a clear statement from the White House that federal authorities will defer to responsible local regulation."
The White House, for its part, insists that its position on medical pot has been "clear and consistent." Asked for comment, a senior administration official points out that the Ogden memo was never meant to protect "such things as large-scale, privately owned industrial marijuana cultivation centers" like the one in Oakland. But the official makes no attempt to explain why the administration has permitted a host of federal agencies to revive the Bush-era policy of targeting state-approved dispensaries. "Somewhere in the administration, a decision was made that it would be better to close down legal, regulated systems of access for patients and send them back to the street, back to criminals," says DeAngelo. "That's what's really at stake."
The administration's retreat on medical pot is certainly consistent with its broader election-year strategy of seeking to outflank Republicans on everything from free trade to offshore drilling. Obama's advisers may be betting that a tough-on-pot stance will shore up the president's support among seniors in November, as well as voters in Southern swing states like Virginia and North Carolina that are less favorable to drug reform. But the president could pay a steep price for his anti-pot crackdown this fall, particularly if it winds up alienating young voters in swing states like Colorado, where two-thirds of residents support medical marijuana. In November, Colorado voters will likely consider a referendum to legalize all pot use for adults – and undercutting enthusiasm for the issue will only dampen turnout that could benefit the president. "Medical marijuana is twice as popular as Obama," notes Kampia. "It doesn't make any political sense."
The sharpest and most surprising rebuke to the administration has come from centrist governors who are fed up with the war on medicinal pot. In November, Gregoire and Chafee issued a bipartisan petition to the DEA, asking the agency to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, the same as cocaine and meth – one with a recognized medicinal value, despite its high potential for abuse. "It's time to show compassion, and it's time to show common sense," says Gregoire. "We call on the federal government to end the confusion and the unsafe burden on patients."
A petition by two sitting governors is historic – but it's unlikely to shift federal policy. Last June, after a nine-year delay, the Obama administration denied a similar petition. An official at the Department of Health and Human Services left little hope for reclassification, reiterating the Bush-era position that there is "no accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States."
For law-enforcement officials who handle marijuana on the front lines, such attitudes highlight how out of touch the administration has become. "Whether you call it medical or recreational, the marijuana genie is out of the bottle, and there's no one who's going to put it back in," insists Sheriff Allman of Mendocino, whose department had been targeted by federal prosecutors for its attempts to regulate medical pot. "For federal officials who plug their ears and say, 'No, it's not true, it's not true,' I have some words for them: You need to get over it."
Click on Magazine to see December 2011 Issue!!!!
Obama pardons 5, commutes 1 sentence for convictions including selling drugs, gambling
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday pardoned five people convicted of charges ranging from intent to distribute marijuana to running an illegal gambling business.
And he issued his first commutation, ordering the release of a woman next month after serving 10 years on a 22-year sentence for cocaine distribution.
The actions mark Obama’s third set of pardons. He pardoned eight people earlier this year, and issued nine pardons in December 2010.
None of those pardoned was well-known, as was the case with the president’s previous orders. The cases date back to 1984, when Martin Kaprelian of Park Ridge, Ill., was sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce, and other related charges.
Obama commuted the 2001 prison sentence of Eugenia Marie Jennings of Alton, Ill. Jennings was convicted in 2001 for distributing cocaine, and sentenced to 22 years in prison. The president ordered her to be released next month, but kept intact her eight years of supervised release.
Others who received pardons:
— Lesley Claywood Berry Jr. of Loretto, Ky., sentenced in 1988 to three years in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.
— Dennis George Bulin of Wesley Chapel, Fla., sentenced in 1987 to five years of probation and a $20,000 fine for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 pounds of marijuana.
— Ricky Dale Collett of Annville, Ky., sentenced in 2002 to one year of probation for aiding and abetting in the manufacture of 61 marijuana plants.
— Thomas Paul Ledford of Jonesborough, Tenn., sentenced in 1995 to one year of probation for conducting and directing an illegal gambling business.
Medical Marijuana Raids Not What Obama Promised, Panel Says
As federal raids on pot shops continue throughout the country, drug policy experts allege that President Obama and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have contradicted their earlier positions on medical marijuana. Cannabis policy experts and advocates from all over the United States convened in Los Angeles last week to discuss the current state of the reform movement. The latest Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) annual conference drew diverse opponents of the War on Drugs, including law enforcement, medical marijuana patients, needle exchange proponents, and drug legalization advocates.
In a specific session titled "State of the Movement: Whither Medical Marijuana?”, panelists and audience members discussed Obama’s campaign promises to end federal raids on medical marijuana patients and clinics in states where such use was legally authorized.
In a Mar. 22, 2008 interview with The Mail Tribune’s Editorial Page Editor, Gary Nelson, then candidate Barack Obama said in part:
"When it comes to medical marijuana, I have more of a practical view than anything else. My attitude is that if it's an issue of doctors prescribing medical marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma or as a cancer treatment, I think that should be appropriate because there really is no difference between that and a doctor prescribing morphine or anything else.” He then elaborated, "What I'm not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue simply because I want folks to be investigating violent crimes and potential terrorism. We've got a lot of things for our law enforcement officers to deal with."
On Feb. 29, 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder said that he did not expect raids on medical marijuana clinics to continue. "He was my boss during the campaign, he is formally and technically and by law my boss now. So what he said during the campaign is now American policy."
On Oct. 19, 2009 the Department of Justice issued its now famous Ogden memo which announced that prosecutorial priorities should not target "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." Most observers believed that medical marijuana users and caregivers who complied with state law would no longer be the focus of federal prosecution.
Panelists at the DPA conference lamented that these campaign promises and DOJ overtures have been reversed by the actions of several US attorneys who have authorized raids on marijuana clinics, issued warning letters to state attorneys general in the 16 states where medical marijuana is currently legal, pushed for disproportionate taxation on marijuana clinics, and even threatened to target media who publish ads for medical marijuana clinics.
Tom Daubert, Founder, Patients and Families United (Helena, MT)
Allen Hopper, Police Practices Director, ACLU of Northern California (San Francisco, CA)
Michael Kennedy, High Times Attorney (New York, NY)
Karen O’Keefe, Director of State Policies, Marijuana Policy Project (Washington, DC)
Steph Sherer, Executive Director, Americans for Safe Access (Washington, DC)
F. Aaron Smith, Executive Director, National Cannabis Industry Association (Phoenix, AZ)
Tamar Todd, Staff Attorney, Drug Policy Alliance (Berkeley, CA)
The panelists stated that the DOJ has not issued a formal statement announcing a policy reversal, a reason for the timing of the recent raids, or an indication that actions against medical marijuana clinics would escalate or cease.
Obama's War on Weed
The president's strange flip-flop on medical marijuana.
By Ray Stern seattleweekly.com
Only two years ago, Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden wrote his landmark "Ogden Memo," announcing the feds wouldn't bother businesses in compliance with their own state laws. It proved a dose of Miracle-Gro to California, where pot-selling stores have multiplied since voters approved the state's 1996 medical-marijuana law. By late last year, California reportedly had more dispensaries than Starbucks.
Colorado also made it legal in 2000, seeing a similar explosion of new storefronts. The same thing happened to varying degrees in 16 other states, from Arizona to our very own Washington.
But the feds' tolerance wasn't quite what it seemed. While legal weed grew to an estimated $10 to $100 billion industry—no one's quite sure of the exact figure—activists noticed an alarming undercurrent to the rhetoric: Raids on growers and dispensaries actually increased under Obama.
As hundreds of thousands of state-approved, doctor-recommended patients happily bought their medicine in well-lit stores from knowledgeable "budtenders," the ire of cops and prohibitionists rose.
The first sign of Obama's subterfuge came in late 2010, as California prepared to vote on a ballot proposition that would have legalized growing and possessing small amounts of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21 (Washington has a similar hopeful for the 2012 ballot). Under pressure from teetotalers—nine former Drug Enforcement Agency chiefs begged Obama to oppose the measure—Attorney General Eric Holder said that it didn't matter what Californians thought. The feds would continue to bust people regardless of the election.
The measure got 46 percent of the vote—not enough to pass. Yet the medical side of things kept going strong. Too strong for Obama.
When the Oakland City Council prepared to authorize large-scale cultivation centers, Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for California's Northern District, issued the first of a series of letters from her fellow attorneys. She reminded residents that marijuana was still criminalized under federal law, considered equal to heroin or meth, irrespective of its medicinal value.
Nor did she care what California law said. Her "core priority" would be to prosecute "business enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana" under federal law.
Over the next few months, U.S. attorneys from Maine to Washington wrote their own increasingly menacing letters. In Washington, the feds even threatened to arrest state workers who helped facilitate the industry.
Then the Obama administration released a new letter to "clarify" Ogden's memo. Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole verified the about-face: The only people safe from arrest were the "seriously ill" patients and their caregivers.
Everyone else? Be forewarned.
The letter didn't just target those directly involved in the trade. Cole was also threatening supporting industries—read: banks—with money-laundering charges for dealing in the proceeds from marijuana. Obama had launched a full-on attack on the industries essential to any functioning enterprise.
Banks responded by canceling their weed-related accounts. "Perhaps there may be a few financial institutions here or there that are still accepting accounts," says Caroline Joy, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bankers Association. "Those facilities don't want to reveal who they are."
Then came a one-two punch.
On October 5, the IRS ruled that one of the largest California dispensaries, Harborside Health Center, owed $2.5 million in taxes because federal law precluded standard deductions for businesses engaging in illegal activity.
In other words, Obama was not only blowing off state laws. He was declaring that legal businesses were now nothing more than criminal rackets. And he was taking away every tool they needed to function.
Harborside's owner said he'd go out of business if the IRS didn't reverse course. Dispensaries nationwide saw it as a crippling decision.
Then came another blow two days later—the bombshell dropped by California's four U.S. Attorneys. They were now going after people who leased stores and land to the pot industry. Violators were given 45 days to close doors, uproot plants, and kick out renters. The penalty for not acting: seizure of property and arrest.
Laura Duffy, the U.S attorney for California's Southern District, went so far as to threaten media with prosecution for accepting pot advertising (as this paper does).
There was no doubt about it: Obama was intent on killing an entire industry—in the middle of a depression, no less. Left unexplained was why, especially since he was giving the finger to voters in 16 states just a year before he would face them in his own election.
Democratic strategists were perplexed. Roger Salazar, a California party consultant, believes the president may be trying to reach out to a broader base. But that doesn't explain the attack on his own; Democrats support medical marijuana most. It doesn't even make sense in luring conservatives. With the country in economic tatters, no one has weed high on their radar.
Except one group, says Salazar: "It's a mystery, I think, it really is, where the pressure is coming from. My sense is it's coming from law enforcement."
Certainly Obama's threats are real. He may be loath to jail landlords, bankers, or even dispensary owners. Arresting nonviolent, state-sanctioned businesspeople wouldn't be popular. But his quieter war of chopping merchants off at the knees through credit and leasing would ravage the trade.
Still, the president has thrown himself into an uphill fight. There is reason to believe medical marijuana will persist, despite his betrayal.
The truth will prevail
Ignorance, false propaganda, and rank political posturing tend to be the foundation of the anti-marijuana argument. (Throw in bureaucratic turf protection as well. The DEA, for example, would need fewer agents if pot was decriminalized nationwide.)
A new Gallup poll shows that a record 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana—and not just the medical kind—should be legalized. The poll follows a continuing trend over the past several years of increasing support for legalization.
Obama has chosen to swim against the tide. But there's reason to believe his fight is about politics, not public safety. If this were about safety, alcohol, not marijuana, whose effectiveness as a medicine has been well-documented, would be his primary target.
Politics make both sides fudge the truth. Yet prohibitionists and the government have been particularly egregious. The government is using taxpayer dollars to prop up its side, with the U.S. Justice Department's 64-page booklet, "Speaking Out About Drug Legalization," a prime example.
The booklet, distributed in print and online, states that "smoked marijuana is not scientifically approved medicine." Forget that by labeling it a drug on par with heroin, the DEA is curtailing the proper study of marijuana, since it prevents even scientists from possessing it for research. The publicly funded propaganda also flies in the face of the opinions of doctors who see pot's potential as medicine.
It's a strategy that's trickled to states with functionaries unhappy about executing the voters' will. Last December in Arizona, Will Humble, the state's Department of Health Services director, held a press conference on the state's new Medical Marijuana Act. He took a moment to remind reporters that more than 1,000 Arizonans died last year from accidental overdoses from prescription drugs.
But when asked how many of those died from marijuana, Humble refused to answer—to chuckles from the audience. He referred the question to his chief medical officer, Laura Nelson, who would only say she'd "have to do the research on that" before she could answer. Then Nelson began stammering about the danger of marijuana due to "car accidents"—though she had done no research on that, either.
The CMA's new report, interestingly enough, sheds light on statements like Nelson's. It says that prohibitionists often make unsubstantiated claims about car crashes or other purported harms. Studies disagree on its risks to motorists, though there's no question that booze increases the chances of a crash, the report says. Moreover, simulated driving tests reveal that pot smokers overestimate their degree of impairment and "compensate effectively."
Half-hearted crackdowns don't work
The latest crackdown will be bad for the pot business. No question. But Obama could be doing much, much more.
He could go after patients. Over the summer, a federal judge ruled that the DEA could peek at the names on Michigan's patient registry. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, said Judge Hugh Brenneman Jr., patients can't expect privacy.
Last week, the feds raided several growing operations in California and Oregon (a few months after a particularly brutal crackdown in Spokane), including one in Mendocino County that appeared to be playing by the state rules. But it seems safe to assume that few of the hundreds of other growers in Mendocino County did not uproot their crops in response—just as the hundreds of dispensaries in California did not immediately close their doors after the feds' ominous warning on October 7.
The industry seems to be practicing a form of civil disobedience. And it has tens of thousands of seriously sick people behind it, who will holler loudly if they're forced back to the black market.
Indeed, there are some signs that Obama's crackdown will be a "passive-aggressive" strategy: Rather than offend Americans with news footage of police raids, Obama has launched a war of attrition.
Landlords, worried the feds will steal their property, will tell dispensaries to move out. Banks won't handle money for pot-themed businesses. Dispensaries will be taxed so heavily they won't be able to cover the payroll or pay the electric bill.
Yet it remains to be seen whether federal prosecutors, who undoubtedly have even more serious criminals with which to contend, are willing and able to carry out the threat. When Jack Gillund, Melinda Haag's spokesman, was asked whether her office had the resources to go after every dispensary or grower who didn't comply with the 45-day deadline, he offered a simple reply: "No comment."
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in California's Eastern District, says Wagner's goal isn't to shut down everything. He's focusing on "large, professional, money-making operations—the commercial operations."
Horwood also says that it's wrong to call it "Obama's crackdown." She says the California U.S. Attorneys decided to take action on their own because the situation has grown out of control among recreational users. But she acknowledges that they received Obama's blessing.
It's a classic political strategy: Send the underlings out to take the heat while the bosses hide under their skirts.
Either way, the end result casts Obama as even more zealous than George W. Bush, who threatened owners of dispensary properties in 2007, but never followed up. Meanwhile, Colorado and other states have seen no similar crackdowns. Only time will tell whether Obama plans to destroy the entire medical-marijuana industry, or merely smack California around for a bit.
A million patients can't be wrong
An estimated one million people in California have obtained a doctor's recommendation to grow and use marijuana legally. Patient estimates in Washington are hazier, but the number is thought to be around 100,000.
If the feds shut down every dispensary in the country, all these people will still be able to legally possess marijuana—no matter where they bought it—under their state laws. The only difference is they'll be forced to go back to buying their weed from Mexican drug cartels, rather than from Americans who provide jobs and pay taxes.
It's akin to the feds saying that Anheuser-Busch can no longer sell beer; they'd prefer that people only buy from Al Capone.
Hey, wait—didn't that already happen?
Medical marijuana advocates criticize Obama
Ron Paul for president! -UA
Medical marijuana advocates have reacted angrily to reports of the Obama administration threatening dispensaries, including some in the Bay Area. California voters passed a medical marijuana law in 1996, and many people use the drug to help ease pain related to HIV and AIDS and other illnesses.
But in recent weeks, federal prosecutors have announced broad prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries across California, reportedly threatening landlords with eviction, property seizures, and imprisonment.
The federal government's stance flies in the face of California law. In 1996, voters passed Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act, which regulates medical marijuana. The federal government does not recognize Prop 215 or similar laws in more than a dozen other states and Washington, D.C.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and state Senator Mark Leno, both out gay Democrats from San Francisco, held a press conference Wednesday, October 19, to call for an end to the federal crackdown.
In a recent statement, Ammiano said the Department of Justice's stance means "a tragic return to failed policies that will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives."
He continued, "Whatever happened to the promises [Obama] made on the campaign trail to not prosecute medical marijuana or the 2009 DOJ memo saying that states with medical marijuana laws would not be prosecuted? Change we can believe in? Instead we get more of the same.
In early 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that the Obama administration would not target patients and providers in the states with medical marijuana laws.
In a phone interview last week, Ammiano said, "I'm an Obama supporter, and that's how it is and I'm not going to change." However, he said, "We're very, very angry" about the administration's actions.
"How many death beds have we all sat by?" where marijuana's relieved some symptoms, he said. He said the feds are "going to have a fight on their hands." Ammiano said he planned to meet with Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) to discuss the issue.
In a statement Wednesday, Leno said, "I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries, which will have devastating impacts for the state of California.
In an interview earlier this week, Leno said, "Whereas the federal government is saying that their interest is just large operators with for-profit models making millions of dollars," that's not the profile of Charley Pappas, board chair of San Francisco's Divinity Tree Patients' Wellness Cooperative.
Pappas said the "very supportive" landlord for their Geary Street operation received a 45-day notice from the federal government September 28. He wasn't immediately able to provide a copy of the letter, but said it threatened forfeiture and prison, among other things.
Pappas said the club's patients include people with HIV and AIDS and military veterans.
Leno said his "top concern" is "safe and affordable access for medicine the voters of California have stated they want available."
"I would suggest the federal government focus on the real problems affecting Americans: lack of jobs, a home foreclosure crisis that has yet to stabilize, and two unfunded wars. This is a waste of time," he added.
Gregory Ledbetter, a 48-year-old, gay San Francisco resident, has been a medical marijuana patient for several years but said he's not a member of one particular club. He said marijuana is usually donated to him through Axis of Love, which works to help people such as disabled medical cannabis patients of San Francisco.
"Our access is pretty well secured," he said, but he was concerned by what he called Obama's "deceit." Ledbetter was one of several people who rallied outside the old Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue to protest a raid on Northstone Organics Cooperative.
The co-op's website said they're closed due to a federal raid where their "entire crop was eradicated."
Matt Cohen, Northstone's executive director, said in a phone interview that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency had come with a federal search warrant. He didn't know when his operation would open again.
He said hundreds of their members have AIDS, and his co-op is "unique." They had a licensed farm in Mendocino where their product "was sustainably grown with organic nutrients. The members knew what they were getting. They were getting it direct from the farm," and Northstone's product was "also very affordable," he said. Cohen said there are "probably" alternatives, but he didn't know whether those options are safe or of the same quality.
Jack Gillund, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, said in an emailed response to a question from the Bay Area Reporter, "The Department of Justice, which is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, is focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers. Individuals involved in the commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana, remain a core priority. We are not directing our limited resources toward individuals with serious illnesses, or their individual caregivers, who use marijuana based on a doctor's recommendation."
But in an October 7 press conference made available via phone, a U.S. attorney in California declined to pledge that patients wouldn't be prosecuted, and said, "I cannot give them that assurance. I'm not in a position to overrule federal law."
In a phone interview this week, Shin Inouye, Obama's director of specialty media, refused to discuss the situation, since it involves "a very explicit" Department of Justice action. He wouldn't say why the president isn't intervening, and referred questions to the DOJ.