From his recent interview with Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone:
Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?
Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.
Though his answer was full of half-truths and evasions, give the man credit that he wasn’t laughing at the very idea of ending the drug war.
Let’s get one thing clear though, the President could end the crackdown on lawful dispensaries tomorrow if he wanted to. The status of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug is entirely at the discretion of the DEA, which has repeatedly blocked medical testing of marijuana. The lie the administration is foisting on the public is that the president understands the problem and feels sympathetic, but his hands are tied by his inability to “nullify congressional law.” What he fails to mention is that his administration made the conflict between federal drug prosecutors and state dispensary operators exponentially worse by giving them false reassurance that they wouldn’t be targeted.
From a Politico story a few days ago:
According to Combs, a sizable Montana community of patients and growers felt empowered by the DOJ memo and the administration’s supportive statements to open up shop, register patients and begin paying taxes on what they thought was now a legitimate business. Then in 2011, federal forces from several agencies raided 26 dispensaries across 13 Montana cities. Other dispensaries have been raided in states like California, Washington, Michigan, and Colorado.
All told, the federal government has raided more than 100 dispensaries — with the most recent busts of a San Francisco Bay area marijuana training center. Obama has vowed more money to hunt down Latin American drug traffickers, promising an extra $200 million in a 2011 press conference with El Salvador President Mauricio Funes. He’s kept in place Bush administration anti-medical marijuana administrators in key administration positions.
The notion that dispensaries would be able to flout federal law indefinitely was always a little farfetched even if our elected leaders maintained the good sense not to bring the heavy hand of paramilitary assault teams down on legitimate businesses in no-knock raids. Which is why the administration’s betrayal of the uneasy truce laid out therein was due to the realities of tax law more than anything else. When they realized it wasn’t possible to just look the other way when businesses started distributing America’s number one cash crop (if you discount corn subsidies!) the proverbial cat was out of the bag, and there was no choice but to crack down. Still, by reneging on his promise, Obama has staked out a position on the drug war somewhere to the right of Pat Robertson and a majority of Americans.
I’m still waiting for the day the administration stops saying arresting cancer-ridden medical marijuana patients is “not the best allocation of resources” and starts simply saying it’s wrong.