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May 16, 2012

Big win at polls for medical marijuana supporter in Oregon AG race

As highlighted in this Reuters article, which is headlined "Supporter of Oregon medical pot law wins attorney general race," a significant primary victory for a vocal supporter of medical marijuana suggests the 2012 election cycle might be a real turning point for pot policies.  Here are the basics:

In a primary election race for Oregon's top law enforcement post, the candidate who pledged to protect medical marijuana patients scored a decisive victory Tuesday night over a rival who led a cannabis crackdown last year.

Retired judge Ellen Rosenblum, strongly backed by proponents of liberalized marijuana laws, captured 63 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for state attorney general, trailed by former U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton with 36 percent, according to early returns.

Because no Republicans sought their party's nomination for attorney general, the Democratic primary victor, Rosenblum, becomes the presumptive winner in November's general election, making her the first woman to claim that office.

With Rosenblum and Holton taking similar stances on issues such as consumer protection, civil rights and the environment, their diametrically opposed views on medical marijuana emerged as a key point of contention in the race, so much so that the campaign was seen largely as a referendum on drug policy generally.

"As attorney general, I will make marijuana enforcement a low priority, and protect the rights of medical marijuana patients," Rosenblum said on her website before the election. By contrast, Holton called Oregon's medical marijuana law, which has left distribution and cultivation of pot largely unregulated, a "trainwreck" that was putting pot "in the hands of kids" and others who are using it for purposes other than pain management.

In a brief victory statement issued shortly after election officials began to tally the ballots, Rosenblum said she was "honored to have been selected by the voters of Oregon as their choice for the Democratic nominee (for) Attorney General of Oregon." She made no mention of marijuana or any other specific issues. Nor did Holton, who in his concession statement thanked, among others, the coalition of organized labor groups that backed his candidacy.

But medical marijuana advocates seized on Rosenblum's win as a sign that voters were at odds with the federal government's recent crackdown on storefront cannabis shops in states that have legalized personal use, possession and cultivation of pot for healthcare reasons....

The primary contest unfolded as two groups in Oregon are racing to collect enough signatures for two separate ballot initiatives seeking to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state. If their efforts are successful, Oregon voters will join those in Colorado and Washington state who will decide on the matter in November. A total of 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana, though cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law.

Some experts predicted a Rosenblum triumph could resonate well outside of Oregon's largely Democratic-registered electorate. "A victory for Rosenblum could have symbolic power which would reach beyond the state into the national debate," said University of Oregon political science professor Joe Lowndes.

May 16, 2012 at 10:17 AM | Permalink


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Primary voters tend to be drawn from the party's base, i.e., from its most eager and ideological backers. Thus it can hardly be a surprise that the majority of Democratic primary voters in a distinctly liberal state support "medical" marijuana; what would be surprising is any other result.

One thing the primary didn't change is the supremacy of federal law. So have at it, Ms. Rosenblum.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2012 2:31:32 PM

From Reason Magazine:

3 Reasons Obama Should End the Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

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

Mike Riggs | May 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote comic Bill Engvall: “There’s your sign.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 16, 2012 3:19:40 PM

Yet Mitt Romney will probably be worse than Obama on Medical marijuana issues.

Posted by: Anon | May 16, 2012 3:58:21 PM

"Considering that Obama won office in part thanks to his drug reform promises, it’s truly a mystery why he hasn’t kept his word."

Actually, it's no mystery at all. Governing is different from campaigning. Obama's US Attorneys, not exactly a bunch to be confused with Sean Hannity, discovered what is now widely known and not even seriously denied, to wit, that these alleged "medical marijuana" outfits are just storefronts for drug dealers. There is virtually no enforcement of the (falsely) promised standards that would restrict distribution to those with legitimate and serious medical need. "Medical marijuana" has, for all practical purposes, been turned into recreational marijuana.

But that flies in the face of both federal law (the CSA) and state law (Prop 19 went down in flames).

Article II of the Constitution states that the President shall "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." That President Obama is fulfilling this duty sparks no end of rage from druggies. Too bad.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2012 3:59:42 PM

More ... From Reason Magazine:

When Will Obama Evolve on the Drug War?

Much is made of how Obama’s position on same-sex marriage has “evolved." One hopes his position on the “war on drugs” is also evolving.

Sheldon Richman | May 16, 2012

Much is made of how President Obama’s position on same-sex marriage has “evolved” to an endorsement of legalization. One hopes his position on the atrocity called the “war on drugs” is evolving.

It’s not really a war on drugs. It’s a war on people, most of whom have committed no violence or other aggression against person or property. Those who do commit violence are encouraged to do so by the very “war on drugs” that Obama and other enlightened leaders so enthusiastically support. Black markets often feature violence — precisely because they are illegal. Decriminalize the activity, and the violence goes away.

America had a natural experiment in this principle: Prohibition. When the manufacture and sale of alcohol were made illegal by constitutional amendment in 1920, booze didn’t disappear from society. It simply went underground to be dominated by those with a comparative advantage in thuggery. Ending prohibition brought alcohol into the legitimate market (although unfortunately regulated and licensed). The violence related to the manufacture and sale of alcohol went away.

Thus the violence perpetrated by Latin American drug cartels and gangs in the United States is not an argument against decriminalization. It’s an argument for it.

It’s well known that an unconscionably high percentage of the American population is in prison. We can thank the government’s persecution of drug commerce for that shameful fact. It is also increasingly understood that militarized police drug raids terrorize people every day, often killing individuals who were not even intended as targets. The American people should demand that this systematic oppression be stopped. The police have become the enemy of Americans, mostly but not exclusively members of minority communities.

The raids that end in death at least make the headlines and perhaps upset people for a short while. But another part of the war on drug commerce gets less attention. When consenting people buy and sell drugs, there is no victim to complain. So to make arrests, police need to trap people — many of them young — in drug transactions and then threaten them with long jail terms unless they become informants. Many take these deals — against their deepest beliefs — for fear of having their lives destroyed by felony convictions and time in the hell holes we call prisons. They proceed to set up drug deals with friends and family members just so they can produce cases for the cops and leniency for themselves.

Can there be a worse indictment of the sadistic government crusade against drugs? What possible good is done by police blackmailing the most vulnerable, even helpless, people into informing on others? Cooperation with the police under these circumstances, despite the duress, is morally wrong — but we mustfirst condemn the police — and politicians who back them — for putting people in this situation. What kind of society is this? It does not deserve to be called humane.

But drugs are dangerous, people say. It’s about time this empty slogan was thrown on the trash heap. Illegal drugs are not illegal because they are dangerous. Other substances that can be used in harmful ways — most obviously alcohol — are legal. Many legal activities that people love to engage in are highly dangerous. Certain drugs have been singled out for prohibition historically not because they are especially dangerous but because they were associated with minority communities. The story of the “drug war” is not of a humane effort to create a healthy, safe society. It’s a story of persecution and control — and of tax-funded largess for law enforcement and the “drug-rehabilitation” industry.

Politicians in Latin America are beginning to understand that the drug wars tearing their countries apart would end overnight if the drug industry were decriminalized. No one would be more opposed to decriminalization than the drug lords, because they’d lose their de facto monoplies.

But who patronizingly insists that Latin America stay with its destructive policy? President Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. They would rather see the violence continue and spill over into the United States than admit they are wrong.

No drug could do even a tiny fraction of the damage that the drug war does. Mr. Obama, when will your position evolve?

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 16, 2012 5:06:44 PM


Could you post the Encyclopedia Britannica too? I gave my set to Goodwill about 30 years ago.


Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2012 7:30:20 PM

What - you don't like concise articles from a leading libertarian publication that reveal your drug war for what it is?

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 16, 2012 7:35:32 PM


I guess "concise" has a new definition.

But, hey, look, not to worry. I lodged no objection to your copy-and-paste "efforts;" I merely asked for the Encyclopedia Britannica as well, since we're being generous with bandwidth these days.

P.S. What the drug war is, is the product of a 40 year-long consensus of both parties, and uniformly of Congresses and Presidents of varying ideologies, codified in the Controlled Substances Act.

Don't like it? Then go win an election.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2012 10:04:36 PM

Slavery, anti-miscegenation, and institutional discrimination against people based on biological sexual orientation, etc.

Those foul historical phenomena are also the products of well more than 40 years of consensus amongst wrongheaded individuals.

Soon enough your drug war will go the way of these other liberty-curtailing blights.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 17, 2012 1:18:00 AM


Although I can't say I'm optimistic, I have to think there's at least a chance that, at some point, you'll be able to tell the difference between (A) treating people badly on the basis of immutable personal characteristics they can't change (e.g., their color and sexual orientation), and (B) holding people responsible for contingent behavior they decided at some point to undertake (and therefore can change), e.g., selling meth or heroin to a 16 year-old.

One of the reasons the drugs-for-everyone campaign has spent four decades as a flop is that the electorate understands that, when people have a choice about their behavior, and the behavior is socially damaging, it's perfectly fair to hold that behavior to account. The idea that this is the same thing as Jim Crow is total bunk. AS I say, you've been losing all those elections for a reason.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2012 8:49:48 AM

You seek to justify your drug war by a purported 40-year consensus.

I point out the absurdity of that justification, by noting that there was more than a 40--year consensus amongst many in support of slavery, in support of anti-miscegenation laws, and in support of institutional discrimination against gays.

Then, like your boy, Romney, you dodge and weave and evade. You falsely try to portray the entire drug war as a campaign designed to prevent reprobates from selling crank to 16-year-olds. You falsely posit a "drugs-for-everyone" campaign.

Wake up.

As noted in the Reason Magazine articles I quoted, the majorirty of those victimized by your war on drugs are non-violent adults who engaged in consensual transactions. Libertarians believe individuals are better than government at making personal decisions about matters such as what individuals should put in their own bodies. You, by contrast, think that government knows better than individuals. You are an authoritarian. You are willing to strip away the liberty of people who do not conform their conduct to your beliefs about what they should not ingest. You are not troubled by the absurdity of marijuana being listed as a Schedule I controlled substance. You are so wedded to your war on drugs that you've actually convinced yourself that you know better than individuals' doctors whether cannabis has medicinal value for them. You are willing to try to falsely portray the entire war on drugs as an effort to protect 16-year-olds.

Just go into a corner. Hang your head in shame for your role in the vicious drug war. Reflect on the lives you have unjustifiably destroyed.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 17, 2012 11:36:37 AM


Watch out, my man. You're going to give self-righteousness a bad name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2012 2:45:35 PM

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