Amid an increased crackdown on medical marijuana producers across the nation, including a recent high-profile raid on a California training school, President Barack Obama faced questions in a new interview with Rolling Stone about the seeming disconnect between his 2008 campaign rhetoric and his administration’s actions since he took office.
“I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws [on medical marijuana],” Obama promised in 2008, according to an earlier Rolling Stone report. But Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2010 that federal authorities would continue to prosecute individuals for marijuana possession, despite its legalized status in some states.
The Huffington Post’s Lucia Graves reported recently on subsequent enforcement activity:
Since then, the administration has unleashed an interagency cannabis crackdown that goes beyond anything seen under the Bush administration, with more than 100 raids, primarily on California pot dispensaries, many of them operating in full compliance with state laws. Since October 2009, the Justice Department has conducted more than 170 aggressive SWAT-style raids in 9 medical marijuana states, resulting in at least 61 federal indictments, according to data compiled by Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, the president tried to explain his original comments, claiming that the recent pressure on dispensaries and providers was in line with his intent.
“What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana,” Obama said. “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.”
The president continued: “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.”
Obama then shifted gears away from marijuana, saying that a “broader debate” on drug laws was warranted.
While the president appears to believe that his administration’s actions against medical cannabis don’t conflict with his earlier statements on the issue, some lawmakers around the country disagree.
Lawmakers in five states that have legalized medical marijuana recently wrote a letter to Obama criticizing him for a supposed “contradiction” on the matter and calling on the federal government “not to interfere with our ability to control and regulate how medical marijuana is grown and distributed.”