Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Scott Morgan Headshot

A Big Mistake In Obama's War on Medical Marijuana

Posted: Updated:

For over a year now, the Obama Administration has been steadily escalating its assault on medical marijuana. What was already a mess has been getting worse from one week to the next, and each new attack revives the question of whether the feds have finally taken things too far.

If we aren't there yet, we may well be getting pretty damn close. As the Huffington Post reported last week:

SAN FRANCISCO -- An Oakland medical marijuana dispensary that has been billed as the largest pot shop on the planet has been targeted for closure by federal prosecutors in Northern California, suggesting that a crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry remains well under way.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has threatened to seize the Oakland property where Harborside Health Center has operated since 2006, as well as its sister shop in San Jose, executive director and co-founder Steve DeAngelo said Wednesday. His employees found court papers announcing asset forfeiture proceedings against Harborside's landlords taped to the doors at the two locations on Tuesday.

What makes this event stand out is Harborside's unparalleled reputation for safety, security and compliance with local laws. The decision to target them contradicts an April interview in which President Obama told Rolling Stone that enforcement efforts focused only on dispensaries that illegally sold marijuana for non-medical use.

Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated that position last month, saying, "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law." He added that dispensaries may also be targeted if they are too close to a school, and indeed, numerous dispensaries have been shut down for operating within 1,000 feet of a school, even in the absence of any actual problems or complaints.

Yet Harborside is not located within 1,000 feet of a school, nor has the organization ever been accused of violating state or local laws. To the contrary, the group is nationally-recognized as the leading example of a well-run, well-regulated medical marijuana provider. National news outlets routinely feature stock footage from inside the facility, where cameras have always been welcome. The group has operated like an open book from the beginning, believing that a transparent and responsible approach would lend legitimacy to the industry.

How then would the feds justify targeting a place that everyone loves? Ironically, by claiming it's too popular:

I now find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need. - U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag

This explanation not only contradicts the excuses offered by the president and attorney general, it's also about as incoherent as anything ever uttered in the long and hideous history of federal officials saying stupid things about medical marijuana. This is literally the exact opposite of the truth, in that one well-managed dispensary that consistently upholds the law eliminates the need for numerous others that might not.

This place, by its very existence, has done more to promote legal compliance in the medical marijuana industry than an army of federal law enforcement officials ever could. It has set a standard of excellence that's reverberated though the industry and reduced the exact sorts of abuses that the feds so cynically claim to be concerned about. Harborside isn't the problem, it's the solution.

That's why the Obama Administration's attack on Harborside is so terribly short-sighted. It exposes the reality that they're more afraid of the best dispensaries than the worst. It leaves Obama with no answer the next time this issue comes up, and he ought to know by now that it will. It pits the president against public opinion, even among republicans, and becomes a particular problem in the key swing state of Colorado. Heck, he's even got a fundraiser scheduled next week in Oakland, and you can bet he'd raise more money if he weren't at war with the very industry that's helped revitalize their local economy.

I have no idea whether Obama himself is as enthusiastic about destroying medical marijuana as the folks at DOJ who've been doing the actual dirty work, but the answer to that question doesn't matter. If Obama can blame Mitt Romney for what Bain Capital did while he was CEO, we can sure as hell blame Obama for what the Justice Department does when he's the president.

He told us we could expect better than this. And yet the problem isn't just that he failed to keep his word, or even that his attorney general rather blatantly lied to Congress about it, as awful as that is. The greatest disgrace in all of this is the perpetuation of a reprehensible policy that crushes the will of voters and the wisdom of legislatures, that stands between sick people and the medicine their doctors recommend, that hands control of cannabis back to cartels that kill people, and that creates a continuing war in our own communities when there could so easily be peace.

Obama once said that undermining medical marijuana laws was a poor use of resources, and he was right. But it's not only a poor use of resources, it's also just plain wrong. As a candidate, and as a leader, it's time for our president to make things right.