Finally, finally, finally, someone in the press has managed to corner the President on the question of why the war on medical marijuana is getting worse under his watch. Here you go folks, the answer we've been waiting for…
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. [Rolling Stone]
I don't know how one could fairly characterize this as anything other than complete nonsense. Obama wants credit for stopping the arrests of medical marijuana users, which is just ridiculous on its face. It's not like the federal government was bringing misdemeanor possession cases against sick grandmas until Obama came along. That was never the issue and he knows it.
This is a debate about whether the federal government should be stomping on state-regulated medical marijuana programs, thwarting the will of voters, prosecuting responsible providers, and depriving patients of access to their medicine. The President said, "I will not be using justice department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," and that statement was made in response to repeated questions about whether the Obama Administration would continue the deeply unpopular dispensary raids that began under Bush. Nobody thought he talking about something else.
Obama deliberately led everyone to believe that his DOJ would stop targeting facilities that operated legally under state law. That's why everyone is pissed off that the raids haven't stopped. If I misinterpreted his words, then so did most of the marijuana reform movement, the entire American press, and several state legislatures. When the Obama Administration's pledge to respect state laws was making front-page headlines, they sure as hell didn't speak up to clarify that they'd meant no such thing.
Adding insult to injury, Obama then digs in deeper by randomly suggesting that the businesses they're raiding might actually be violating state laws after all:
The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, "This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way." That's not something we're going to do.
For the millionth time, if they're breaking state laws, then they can be prosecuted by the state. None of this amounts to any remote justification for federal intervention, but moreover, we know this is garbage anyway because they've targeted numerous businesses that were considered models of effective local regulation. The President is implying that these people deserved what they got, which is outrageous.
Think about this: federal prosecutors have even threatened to charge state employees simply for working to ensure legal compliance by licensed medical marijuana businesses. Obama claims to be concerned about illegal recreational sales, while his agents have been actively threatening to arrest the very people whose job it is to prevent that sort of thing. It's nuts. Everything he's saying is horribly disingenuous at best, and anyone who's followed the issue at all ought to see right through it.
Obama's comments today are a fresh story and I don’t know yet how others will react, but as far as I'm concerned, this matter is very far from resolved. The President's answers should give rise to more questions, not less. As long as the war on medical marijuana in America continues, those responsible should be able and willing to defend their actions. If Obama can't give us a straight answer, or even acknowledge the promises he broke before our eyes, then it's our job to keep making noise until he does.
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