In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Barack Obama was reminded of his 2008 campaign pledge to not "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana."
It's a promise broken, with federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries exceeding the number of enforcement actions under the Bush administration. Obama's crackdown on medical pot culminated in a raid on Oaksterdam University earlier this month, because apparently Oakland is free of other public safety threats. What's up with that, O-bummer?
Here's what's up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana [dispensaries] — and the reason is, because it's against federal law. 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.
That is some fine, high-grade OG-Kush-potency bullshit. Reason magazine points to a 2008 interview in which candidate Obama was explicitly asked whether he'd stop Drug Enforcement Agency raids on growers and responded by saying, "I would because I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism."
As for Obama's powerlessness in the face of federal law, we're caught in a catch-22. On the one hand, marijuana use is banned. At the same time, it's impossible to understand the administration's position on executive authority without being a little high. President Obama, you see, can unilaterally decide which American citizens to assassinate using drone strikes without congressional authorization or judicial oversight, but he can't ask federal prosecutors to downgrade federal drug cases. It's a problematic position, especially since the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance is a determination made by executive agencies, not Congressional action.
With so much evidence arrayed against current policy, many critics of the Obama position insist that campaign contributions from the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries prevent a saner policy toward drug use and medical marijuana in particular. If that's the case, anti-prohibitionists are going to need their own large donors in 2012. I'm looking at you, Big Funyun.
Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Tags: Barack Obama, Drugs, Health, Marijuana