WASHINGTON -- Medical marijuana activists have a message for President Obama: Defend us from the federal government's crackdown, or else.
Steve DeAngelo, the pigtailed co-founder and executive director of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif., said that for him, it's a simple question of who will get his vote for president.
"I will be voting in the Republican primary in California, and I will be voting for one of the candidates who supports our position on medical cannabis. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of other medical cannabis patients join me," he told The Huffington Post. "There's a real opening here for Republicans."
The president as a candidate promised to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics adhering to state law. At a 2007 town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., Obama said raiding patients who use marijuana for medicinal purposes "makes no sense." At another town hall in Nashua, N.H., he said the Justice Department's prosecution of medical marijuana users was "not a good use of our resources." Yet the number of Justice Department raids on marijuana dispensaries has continued to rise.
In an interview with HuffPost about the debut of the show "Weed Wars," which documents the daily struggles of running the largest medical marijuana dispensary on the West Coast, Steve DeAngelo and his brother Andrew discussed how their experiences at Harborside will influence what they do at the polls.
"Look, we are one-issue voters," Steve DeAngelo said. "I'm not going to vote for anyone who thinks I'm a criminal and wants to put me in prison. I will vote for any one of the presidential candidates who will defend the rights of medical cannabis patients. If that person ends up being a Republican, I will vote for them. If they end up being a Democrat, I will vote for them."
Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries were forced to close their doors after U.S. attorneys announced a crackdown on the medical cannabis industry in the Golden State. The IRS, meanwhile, has declared California pot clinics can no longer deduct salaries, rent or other operating expenses on their tax returns, rendering business unviable for many dispensaries. Now those clinics are looking for a candidate who can help them at the federal level.
In June, Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) teamed up with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to introduce legislation removing marijuana from the list of federally regulated substances. But with Paul currently polling in third place and both members retiring from the House of Representatives, the federal bill faces an uncertain path forward.
"We will vote for whoever is going to defend us," said Steve DeAngelo. "I don't know how serious the Republicans are about this issue yet," he cautioned. "We're not going to be naïve about this, but there are millions of medical cannabis patients who are looking for the right place to put their vote ... The president ignores us at his own peril."
Andrew DeAngelo says he'd like to take it a step farther, mobilizing patients to "vote Republican, if that's what it takes to get movement on our issue, to get the Feds off our back and to stop raiding places to stop doing these crazy things. We can't get a bank account to pay our employes or our taxes with," he said. "Can you imagine going to the bank and having them say, 'I'm sorry, we can't do business with you because you're a cannabis patient'? That's outrageous."
Fifty percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll, with support for legalization among Americans under the age of 30 as high as 62 percent. Gallup has found that Americans are especially likely to favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 70 percent favor making it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana to reduce pain and suffering, according to a survey last year. Those numbers suggest state and national marijuana policy could hold significant sway in swing states, like Colorado, that value their medical marijuana.
"Obama risks many people, in California especially, sitting on their hands in the election," said David Goldman, a core leadership group member with the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access. "But I would never vote for a Republican," he added. "The Republican party is beyond hopeless."