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.
As the Republican vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan gets ready to begin debate preparation on Sunday in Oregon, the Wisconsin lawmaker raised a few eyebrows when he told KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs that states should have the right to choose whether to legalize the drug for medical purposes. Ryan emphasized that while he doesn’t personally approve of laws that make medicinal marijuana legal, “it’s up to Coloradans to decide.” Colorado is one of 17 states, plus Washington, D.C., that allow medicinal marijuana, notes the Associated Press.
Ryan noted that the issue “is something that is not a high priority of ours.” A Ryan spokesman later emphasized that he agrees with Mitt Romney that marijuana should never be legalized. In the video embedded below you can see how Romney scoffed at a reporter who dared to ask a question about medical marijuana: “Aren’t there issues of significance that you’d like to talk about?” He went on to call marijuana a “gateway drug to other drug violations.”
In other Ryan-related news, Romney's running mate will begin preparing for next month’s debate with Vice President Biden Sunday, reports the Washington Post. He will be taking a day off campaigning to begin the preparations, as Republicans begin the obvious effort to lower expectations of Ryan’s match-up against Biden.
“Vice President Joe Biden served over 30 years in the United States Senate, he’s run for president twice and has served as vice-president for the past four years,” a Ryan aide sad. “He is one of the most experienced debaters in American political life, and we definitely don’t take the challenge lightly.”
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.