When Attorney General Eric Holder announced in October 2009 that the Dept. of Justice would respect state medical marijuana laws, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. By that time, any lingering support for aggressive federal raids on medical marijuana providers had dwindled into invisibility. The American people wanted to see patients protected, and Obama's pledge to do so earned him nothing but praise from both the press and the public.
Unfortunately, recent months have brought about what can only be described as the rapid collapse of the Obama Administration's support for medical marijuana. Following dozens of aggressive DEA raids, along with some unusual IRS audits, the Dept. of Justice has now begun openly endeavoring to destroy carefully regulated state programs before they get off the ground:
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Several states have started reassessing their medical marijuana laws after stern warnings from the federal government that everyone from licensed growers to regulators could be subjected to prosecution.
The ominous-sounding letters from U.S. attorneys in recent weeks have directly injected the federal government back into a debate that has for years been progressing at the state level. Warnings in Washington state led Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto a proposal that would have created licensed marijuana dispensaries.
Letters with various cautions have also gone to officials in California, Colorado, Montana and Rhode Island.
It's a sweeping intervention that instantly divorces the Obama Administration from its stated policy of not focusing resources on individuals who are clearly compliant with state law. Unlike the numerous recent dispensary raids, which could theoretically result from competing interpretations of state law, this new incursion constitutes a direct threat of arrest against state employees acting in good faith to administer perfectly lawful state programs.
The mindlessness of all this operates on multiple levels, beginning with the fact that no state employee or state-licensed business has ever actually been prosecuted for involvement with medical marijuana. The suggestion that they'd do such a thing is nothing more than a cynical scare tactic aimed at stalling the numerous state programs moving forward this year.
The notion that DOJ would indict state regulators shouldn't even be entertained, let alone held up as a prohibitive obstacle to implementing tightly controlled programs. Think about how ridiculous that is. Would they prosecute Health Dept. staffers in Rhode Island, which only allows three non-profit dispensaries, even though DOJ took no action against officials in states like Colorado and California with fewer restrictions and far more marijuana businesses? The damage to DOJ's credibility would be so extraordinary, one almost wishes they were foolish enough to try it.
The federal agenda is obviously to avoid allowing state regulation to further legitimize the industry, and they're willing to keep things messier than necessary just so they can continue citing that messiness as evidence that this can't work. They're protecting the argument that medical marijuana is out of control by interfering with efforts to control it. It's a slippery and typical drug war propaganda tactic that, once understood and exposed, should begin to lose its potency.
For 15 years now, opponents of medical marijuana have been saying this can't be done because it's illegal under federal law. Yet today, medical marijuana is a $1.7 billion industry that is helping sick people, creating jobs, generating substantial tax revenue, and even taking money away from murderous cartels in Mexico. There is no reason, old or new, legal or practical, that this important progress can't continue.
The forward momentum of the marijuana reform movement now depends on the willingness of state officials to take a stand against federal interference and reveal these empty threats for what they are. But beyond that, the time has come for the American public to send a message to the President who promised more compassionate policies than his predecessor. If Obama hasn't yet figured out how the American public feels about the war on medical marijuana, then let us each take a moment to politely remind him.