[author: Josh Crank]
“I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” said then-Senator Barack Obama from the campaign trail of 2008.
The issue? Medical marijuana.
At the 41st annual NORML national conference in Los Angeles, Stephen Gutwillig, Deputy Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called out President Obama for going back on his word after taking office.
“We have every right to be enraged at the Obama administration,” he said. “They knew what the right thing to do on medical marijuana policy in this country was, and they’ve broken their promise in so many different ways. We have every reason to feel betrayed by this president.”
Previously reported on Lawyers.com:
Live from NORML — Western States Prepare for Marijuana Legalization Votes
Live from NORML — Lifelong Republican Questions Party’s Pot Position
Live from NORML – Advocacy Group Founder on Public Support for Legalization
Connecticut Begins Registering Medical Marijuana Patients
For more than a year, Obama’s Department of Justice has overseen efforts to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized the alternative therapy. U.S. Attorneys have gone so far as to threaten the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of landlords who rent to dispensaries and government employees who work for state-run medical marijuana programs.
The candidate who campaigned on compassionate cannabis policy has become the president who closed more dispensaries than George W. Bush, and the count continues to rise. Gutwillig said that Obama didn’t know what he was bargaining for when the Department of Justice released the Ogden memo in 2009, which recommended that medical marijuana entities operating in “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law” should not be considered top candidates for the “limited investigative and prosecutorial resources” of federal drug warriors.
“They didn’t know what would transpire,” he said. “They didn’t know a whole lot about medical marijuana.”
“The Ogden Memo was about good policy and good politics. What has transpired after is bad policy and bad politics. And it’s really bad faith. He’s pissed off a lot of people including high level donors.”
When pressed on his about-face in a Rolling Stone interview earlier this year, the president refused to acknowledge his own promise, insisting that he only meant his Department of Justice would not aggressively pursue individual medical marijuana patients:
“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 – 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.”
Obama’s revised answer not only amounts precisely to “using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws” on medical marijuana, it’s cold comfort to the patients watching their sources of medication disappear, according to Don Duncan, California Director of Americans for Safe Access.
“When you attack a patient’s access, you are attacking a patient,” he said.
Photo: Stephen Gutwillig