President Barack Obama touted a progressive attitude on medical marijuana on the campaign trail, but since taking office, Obama’s administration has hardened its stance and supporters of the drug are crying foul on the flip-flop.
In a March 2008 interview, Obama told the Oregon Mail Tribune that medical marijuana ranked low on his list of priorities.
“I think the basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that’s entirely appropriate,” Obama said. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.” But the numbers tell another story.
Since October 2009, Americans for Safe Access, a group committed to legalizing medical marijuana, estimates the Justice Department has carried out 170 raids on dispensaries and cultivation facilities in nine states.
“Every time a dispensary is shut down, there are literally hundreds of people waking up that day wondering where they will get their medication,” says Kris Hermes, the spokesperson for the Americans for Safe Access.
Hermes says he’s confident that the number of raids since the president took office is actually around 200.
“He’s broadened his attack,” Hermes says. “Until Obama was elected, George W. Bush had the most aggressive posture toward medical marijuana…he’s been even more aggressive than his predecessor.”
Americans for Safe Access estimates that during the entire eight years of the Bush administration, roughly 200 raids were carried out, something Hermes says the Obama administration has accomplished in less than four years.
Asked why the Obama administration had been so aggressive in pursuing federal drug law violations involving medical marijuana, the DOJ told Whispers, “Sorry, we do not have statistics to support [that accusation].”
Pro-marijuana groups say Obama has expanded the attack on medical marijuana from DOJ to a wide array of other federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, which has lead dozens of audits of medical marijuana businesses. The IRS has also aggressively penalized medical marijuana businesses for selling an illegal drug by requiring the businesses to pay federal taxes on gross income, not net income, eliminating the tax break most businesses receive from deducting payroll costs.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development released a memo in 2011that allows public housing agencies to evict tenants who use medical marijuana. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also issued a memo in September banning the commercial sale of firearms to medical marijuana patients.
There are 16 states and the District of Columbia that have their own medical marijuana laws.
And experts say U.S. attorneys’ threats against local and state officials who enact medical marijuana laws in their states have even slowed down the implementation of new laws in Arizona, Montana, Rhode Island, and Washington.
“It’s a weaselly threat, but it has scared a few governors,” says Bill Piper, the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group committed to finding alternatives to current drug laws. “The intensity and multi-agency assault is far worse than the Bush administration and the Clinton administration.”
Allen St. Pierre, executive director for NORML, which seeks to reform marijuana laws, says the president might have political as well as legal motivations for reversing his initial position on medical marijuana. St. Pierre argues that current laws prohibit the Obama administration from turning a blind eye to state’s medical marijuana legalization.
“In essence, the administration is sort of hamstrung,” St. Pierre says.
St. Pierre says letting states regulate marijuana as they please would burn up a lot of the president’s political capital, adding that Obama has to take action or he risks earning a reputation in 2012 election as soft on drugs.
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Author: Lauren Fox, U.S. News & World Report
Published: April 12, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Chicago Tribune Company