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February 23, 2012

"Obama's War on Pot"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Rolling Stone piece, which gets started this way:

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."

February 23, 2012 at 03:53 PM | Permalink


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I love how the administration is trying to spin this as a "California" decision, made by their U.S. Attorneys, not a decision from Washington. This type of widespread activity--that is now in Colorado--shows a clear intention from the Obama administration to crack down on dispensaries. In the end, this is an unfortunate decision by the administration that will hurt individuals who are lawfully seeking to use medical marijuana for their medical needs.

Posted by: Denver DUI Attorney | Feb 23, 2012 6:52:50 PM

To say the least, I do not speak for this Administration. To be fair, however, I have seen no indication that Obama was insincere when he (and Holder) started off with a hands-off attitude.

They didn't change overnight. After a year or two of experience with what the supposedly highly regulated "medical marijuana" industry is actually like -- to wit, a fraud, or, as one previous pro-medical pot leader has said, a bunch of "storefronts for drug dealers" -- they decided that their conciliatory approach wasn't working. Instead, it was being exploited to bring in through the back door exactly the recretional use of pot that California voters decisively rejected when Prop 19 went down (and that of course remains illegal under federal law).

I strongly suspect that if the medical marijuana people had made good on their loudly repeated promises of strict regulation, Obama would have stuck with his initial inclination. Since they didn't, he didn't. They have only their own sleaze to blame.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 23, 2012 10:30:14 PM

What's sad is that the disaster predicted by drug warriors never even materialized. Everyone knew early on that few people used medical marijuana for legitimate medical reasons, but people act like that, in and of itself, is a demonstrable failure of the policy. In fact, what it has shown is that the policy of criminalizing marijuana is based on a lie, and that opponents of legalized marijuana have little to fear. There has been no sudden increase in crime, violent or otherwise, traffic fatalities did not increase dramatically, there's no evidence of a sudden increase in admissions to mental health facilities or to hospitals for marijuana overdoses, or whatever. Pretty much all that happened is that some people started selling marijuana as responsible business people, rather than as criminal thugs. One can't help but wonder if that, more than anything, is what spurred the federal government to come down so hard. We can't have the public suddenly realizing that a never-ending war has been a big waste of time, money, freedom, and lives.

Posted by: C.E. | Feb 23, 2012 11:10:55 PM

Angel Raich, whose serious medical problems are described by the Supreme Court at 545 U.S. 1, and the Ninth Circuit at 352 F.3d 1222, is a victim of the cruel and mindless war on drugs.

Marion (Molly) Fry, a licensed physician, who had breast cancer, and who underwent a double mastectomy, and her husband, Dale Schafer, an attorney, who, out of desperation, obtained marijuana to help his wife combat the nausea, pain, and wasting that she was enduring as a result of her cancer treatment, are both victims of crazed drug warriors. Molly and Dale are both now in federal prison. Portions of their plight are described in the Ninth Circuit's opinion at 625 F.3d 629.

Drug warriors think they know better than doctors who recognize the medicinal value of cannabis for seriously ill individuals like Angel Raich and Molly Fry.

It is an utter disgrace.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Feb 24, 2012 1:12:29 AM

C.E. --

"Everyone knew early on that few people used medical marijuana for legitimate medical reasons..."

Q: Then why were we told so solemnly and so often that it WAS going to get used only for legitimate medical reasons?

A: Because the legalizer forces were being dishonest. They knew they couldn't sell recreational use, so they went into all this stuff about urgent medical need. The voters bought it, then got spun when, as you say, it turned out that "medical need" was a joke, and almost anyone could get pot on almost any pretext.

Q: Is that what the voters really wanted?

A: You can read the Prop 19 results as well as I can.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2012 1:49:07 AM

I think there are three distinct questions raised.

1. Should medicinal marijuana providers behave ethically in not offering drive-by prescriptions?

A. Absolutely. Failing to do so is legally wrong and ethically suspect because it contributes to federal and local crack downs that prevent people with legitimate needs from obtaining cannabis.

2. Should marijuana be legal for all uses?

A. In my opinion, yes. I think a line can be drawn between that and other "hard" drugs based on harm to self and others and external costs. This is a question for voters. I don't think that prohibition is such a clear moral wrong like Jim Crow that it demands civil disobedience. For folks for whom marijuana provides the seemingly only effective relief this is a closer call. I would support civil disobedience in that instance, I think.

3. Should Obama be cracking down on state dispensaries?

A. Maybe. There is this thing called the Supremacy Clause. He should have, however, indicated publicly that he had changed position and offered a 30 day amnesty to shut down. He then should have made an effort to shut down each and every dispensary rather than picking and choosing.

Posted by: Robert Barnhart | Feb 24, 2012 10:26:03 AM

Robert Barnhart --

I think the US Attorneys involved did give notice, although I don't know how much or in what form.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2012 3:47:25 PM

When Obama said he was not going to use the Departent of Justice to circumvent state law where it was legal, he did not add - "unless we decide we don't like how the state is doing it." There is really no way to change the meaning of the words.

Posted by: beth | Feb 25, 2012 2:11:26 PM

beth --

Under the Supremacy Clause, there is no such thing as the federal government's "circumventing" state law. Nor does it matter what Obama said -- he didn't write the Constitution and he has no authority to change it. As it happens, however, Obama is an excellent example of a person who massively benefited from the feds "circumventing" George Wallace and other examples of "state law."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 25, 2012 5:04:14 PM

Bill, I agree. If the DOJ were to overlooked federal law concerning controlled substances they shouldn't announce it, deniability should be the order of the day. Many are too young to remember when federal authority and enforcement equaled more equal justice.

To cleanly end the war on drugs Congress must act. I suppose states could make laws forbidding state and local law enforcement from assisting in marijuana prosecutions. Wouldn't that just add more to the soup.

Nope - the only solution is some clarity by congress - it's like pushing on a strin.

Posted by: beth | Feb 25, 2012 9:52:06 PM

It merits a note, I think, that I find Bill Otis' second comment a fair comment though I'd tone down the "lying dopers" implications. It is unfortunate some middle ground could not be found. There are honest people here who aren't just in it for legalization. A problem does arise in that a strong subset of the people here are for legalization.

I support legalization and his original policy, but the screeds from people I'm sympathetic with against Obama's hypocrisy here is annoying. The article has him doing something for two years & then there is a change. There is some complexity there. I also would note the appointment of a former Bush appointee to the head of the DEA also appears to be a major factor. As to beth's comment, yes, statements like this does have an implicit "as long as it is workable," particularly when a pragmatist like Obama is involved.

As to the Supremacy Clause, since the police don't simply enforce every law in the books, realistically there is some choice here.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 29, 2012 1:26:02 PM

[note that the "screeds" are not on this thread but other places, e.g., when Volokh Conspiracy referenced this article]

Posted by: Joe | Feb 29, 2012 1:47:15 PM

From: Whitehouse.gov
To: [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 12:46 PM
Subject: settle public fear of uncertainty, to allow cannabis to be added to our legally monitored list of pharmaceuticals. has been published!

Dear friends,

I wanted to let you know about a new petition I created on We the People,
a new feature on WhiteHouse.gov, and ask for your support. Will you add your
name to mine? If this petition gets 25,000 signatures by May 11, 2012, the
White House will review it and respond!

We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama
Administration to take action on a range of issues. If a petition gets
enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.

You can view and sign the petition here:


Here's some more information about this petition:

settle public fear of uncertainty, to allow cannabis to be added
to our legally monitored list of pharmaceuticals.

Alright everyone, it is time to face safety and reality; about the
acception of marijuana as a legal pharmaceutical agent. Just as millions of
people have recognized, I am absolutely awed at the wonder of medical
treatments that have been researched and made available to the American
people through cannabis. Yet, does this mean that now the entire public
should be given the legal right to enjoy it as an entertainment? There are
millions of adult addicts and teenagers, who take advantage of this drug very
unsafely and dangerously. A very high percentage of the people already suffer
from untreated psychological imbalances, and choose not to recognize their
existence. If marijuana is to be accepted, then it must be researched and
prepared for us in a medically safe and professional manor.

Posted by: Julie Miller Harding | Apr 12, 2012 5:37:48 PM

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