When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, many local medical marijuana proponents felt they finally had a friend in the White House.
How times have changed.
Many of those same proponents now decry Obama and his administration for the heavy hand they have placed on medical marijuana dispensaries and cooperatives in California.
“Definitely all cannabis patients, all advocates who believed Obama wouldn’t take away state access rights would certainly feel that way,” said Jan Werner, vice president of The Clearview Lake Corp., which runs marijuana collectives in Bloomington and Corona.
The proponents’ ire was most recently stirred Oct. 7 when California’s four U.S. attorneys announced they were shutting down certain medical marijuana dispensaries. Owners and landlords were also warned that they would face criminal charges or seizure of their property if they didn’t comply.
The announcement to stop retail sales of marijuana and its cultivation came despite Proposition 215, the Golden State’s medical marijuana law. The 1996 law approved medical cannabis in the state.
“I spent thousands of hours to get him elected,” said Abel Chapa, president of the nonprofit San Bernardino Patients Association and Foundation for Alternative Medicine Research.
“He said, `Hands off the medical marijuana patients.’ He’s a straight-up liar.”
Relationship started strong
Proponents’ dismay with Obama has not been a consistent presence during the entirety of his presidency.
Chapa and others expressed high hopes when U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in late 2009 issued a memo indicating United States attorneys should not use investigative resources on prosecuting “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance” with laws in 16 states that allow medical marijuana – including California.
The announcement fulfilled a campaign pledge by Obama who promised to end the federal raids on state medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.
“I don’t think that should be a top priority of us, raiding people who are using … medical marijuana,” said Obama in June 2007 at a town hall meeting in Laconia, N.H.
“With all the things we’ve got to worry about, and our Justice Department should be doing, that probably shouldn’t be a high priority.”
But those hopes were dashed with last month’s federal crackdown.
“President Obama prides himself on getting people to solve differences,” said Lanny Swerdlow, a Riverside County marijuana activist and radio host. “Well, no one talked to the patients. He just sent the feds.”
Medical marijuana supporters have also been angered by the Internal Revenue Service disallowing business expenses related to running pot shops because of their connection to the illegal sale of drugs, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives saying it’s illegal to sell guns to medical marijuana users.
Officials from the Department of Justice did not respond to emails for comment.
But Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Obama’s policy had not changed and marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance according to the law.
“Federal government remains a supporter on research on which components of the marijuana plant can be used as modern medicine,” Lemaitre said. “The FDA was created 100 years ago to ensure medicines reach the marketplace safe and effectively. We want to protect public safety. To date, the FDA has not found the smoked form of marijuana to be safe or effective.”
Lawmakers defend dispensary
But proponents may not be totally friendless in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, nine members of the House of Representatives – seven Democrats and one Republican from California as well as Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen – penned a letter to Obama condemning the Justice Department’s crackdown on the medical marijuana industry in California.
Holder’s promise to be more hands-off with dispensaries that were complying with state law was also mentioned in the letter.
“It is our strong position that local and state governments must be allowed to develop, implement and enforce their own public health laws with regard to medical cannabis,” the letter stated.
Late on Friday, the White House released a response to several online petitions for marijuana legalization.
“Like many, we are interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses,” the White House wrote in its official response. “That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine. To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition.”
Also last week, a medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans For Safe Access, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco on behalf of patients and collectives in California against the federal government for the crackdown. They said it trampled constitutional authority in shutting down the establishments.
Local cities causing more problems than Obama, some say
Some local proponents though believe blaming Obama is misguided.
Werner as well as Aaron Sandusky, president of G3 Holistics Inc. in Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley, said cities and counties have forced the federal government’s hand.
“They haven’t tried to close clubs operating within guidelines of the county,” Werner said of the Obama administration. “It’s only the ones operating like a for-profit store” that face closure.
Werner said he had not received a notice from the federal government about the future of his establishment.
Sandusky’s establishments in Colton and Moreno Valley have stayed open, but his Upland shop hasn’t been so lucky.
“I’m being pushed and directed more from the city of Upland than the feds or the Obama administration from what I know,” Sandusky said.
Sandusky is suing the city of Upland for trying to close his dispensary.
Sandusky said he had cooperated with the FBI in the investigation into former Upland Mayor John “JP” Pomierski. The feds didn’t express too much concern about his operation.
“Last year, when I met with them, I asked if they had a problem with what I’m doing,” Sandusky said. “Obviously, they didn’t.”
Pomierski has been accused of conspiracy, extortion and bribery involving G3 Holistics.
Why the change?
Questions abound about why Obama has undertaken a harsher attitude toward medical marijuana.
Obviously, they could easily be chalked up to politics.
With Obama facing a tough reelection campaign, independents and moderates, who the president will need to vote for him in November 2012, are less likely to have a welcoming attitude toward medical marijuana.
Swerdlow and Chapa agreed that Obama’s reelection is the reason for the reversal, but they point toward another ever present element in the campaign trail – money and endorsements.
Obama will need the support of law enforcement as well as campaign money from pharmaceutical companies.
“It’s his way of getting money and endorsements from law enforcement and pharmaceutical companies,” Swerdlow said.
But Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance in Los Angeles, said he can’t figure out why Obama would go against medical marijuana.
Gutwillig’s group and others contend the dispensary crackdown is bad policy and bad politics because Obama indicated federal resources would not be used to shut down dispensaries.
“The Obama administration should be encouraging responsible regulations of medical marijuana at the state and local level instead of creating chaos among public officials and fear and outrage among patients and their providers,” Gutwillig said.
News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Author: Wes Woods II
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Copyright: Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Website: Some local medical marijuana proponents unhappy with President Obama after dispensary crackdown