Last night, the medical cannabis advocate community defeated a second anti-medical marijuana candidate in a state Attorney General race. In Oregon, Dwight Holton, a former US attorney, lost in a landslide after medical cannabis became a campaign issue. In 2010, we defeated Steve Cooley in a very close race for California Attorney General. And these are not the only recent victories.
Any day now, Connecticut will become the 17th state to adopt medical cannabis laws. Last week, 73% of President Obama's own party in Congress voted against his policy of cracking down on medical marijuana, and the week before, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi stood up to condemn Drug Enforcement Administration raids in medical cannabis states.
These are pretty exciting times for a movement under attack, but this momentum is no accident.
Following direction from Obama, we focused on our cities and states
After the Ogden Memo was issued in 2009, medical cannabis advocates and elected officials of several states took President Obama at his word, that the "pursuit of [anti-drug] priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals that are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the use of medical marijuana." Patients began seeking solutions to safe access locally. State legislatures across the country began developing medical cannabis laws to provide patient relief while avoiding future federal interference -- all in compliance with DOJ policy.
But federal prosecutors didn't like this direction and they began threatening states which had spent thousands of staff and advocate hours drafting, debating, and passing access laws. Realizing it was out of step with its US attorney offices (who are supposed to be accountable to the elected President), the Obama administration issued the Cole memo in July 2011. Under this "new" guidance of the Obama administration, the DEA and US attorneys increased attacks on medical cannabis with paramilitary-style raids, threatening letters to landlords, IRS persecutions, and even criminal charges against patients and caregivers.
Between Fall 2009 and Summer 2011, advocates created strong relationships in their communities. Elected officials and bureaucrats became invested in creating programs that would meet the needs of their constituents. As the population of medical cannabis patients grew, we began meeting each other, organizing with community partners like the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and were emboldened with what felt like the backing of the federal government.
Experience has broken down barriers
There are now over 1 million state-approved medical cannabis patients in this country. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who is medical cannabis patient. Parents suffering from cancer and MS are tired of asking their kids to find marijuana for them for their treatment, families are tired of watching loved ones needlessly suffer from chronic pain and the side effects of cancer treatment because they do not want to break "federal law," and the nation is tired of government misinformation about the medical benefits of cannabis. Even more importantly, elected officials are hearing these discussions at their dinner tables.
We are bigger and better-organized
The medical cannabis community is growing every day. Thousands of physicians feel comfortable in the regulated systems of access and are recommending cannabis therapies. State and local governments are figuring out how to make safe access a win-win for patients and their communities. Throughout the country, thousands of patients work with their partners in labor, medical associations, veterans groups, patients groups, and political organizations to change federal laws and regulate access to a medicine that millions of Americans need.
Wake up, Mr. President
Three years ago, medical cannabis advocates were told to leave D.C. and focus on our home states. Underestimated, we became the target of federal crackdowns on state-licensed caregivers and dispensaries. President Obama has increased enforcement against us even as his reelection looms. But state and federal leaders are pushing back. Yesterday a poll confirmed that access to medical marijuana is overwhelmingly popular, and today New York elected officials will announce a push to make the Empire State the eighteenth to provide for well-regulated access to cannabis.
The next time the Obama campaign decides to pursue politically-motivated charges against state medical marijuana regimes, I suggest his campaign manager Jim Messina call Steve Cooley or Dwight Holton and ask if they regret underestimating the medical cannabis community.
Politicians come and go. But public compassion for suffering patients is here to stay.