Obama’s War on Pot

Rolling Stone has an article on one of President Obama’s most flagrant and obvious betrayals of his 2008 positions. After promising again and again to change the federal government’s position on medical marijuana, he has instead upped the ante on Bush’s policy and made things worse.

Back when he was running for president in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that medical marijuana was an issue best left to state and local governments. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” he vowed, promising an end to the Bush administration’s high-profile raids on providers of medical pot, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia.

But over the past year, the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multi­agency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush. The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana. With more than 100 raids on pot dispensaries during his first three years, Obama is now on pace to exceed Bush’s record for medical-marijuana busts. “There’s no question that Obama’s the worst president on medical marijuana,” says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “He’s gone from first to worst.”

The federal crackdown imperils the medical care of the estimated 730,000 patients nationwide – many of them seriously ill or dying – who rely on state-sanctioned marijuana recommended by their doctors. In addition, drug experts warn, the White House’s war on law-abiding providers of medical marijuana will only drum up business for real criminals. “The administration is going after legal dispensaries and state and local authorities in ways that are going to push this stuff back underground again,” says Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a former Republican senator who has urged the DEA to legalize medical marijuana, pulls no punches in describing the state of affairs produced by Obama’s efforts to circumvent state law: “Utter chaos.”

The administration is using not only the DEA but the IRS and other agencies as well. They’re actually ramping up the war on medical marijuana, not down as they promised.

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  • matty1

    Can someone explain this to me. Not living under a federal system I don’t understand how something can be legal and illegal at the same time. If a federal law overrides state law wouldn’t it void those laws as seems to happen when the US constitution is found to override a state law?

  • naturalcynic

    The most important thing that can be used against this abuse of power is nullification. We the people have chosen to accept medical marijuana and it has fallen on us to protect this choice. All cases where the arrest of growers or distributors who have followed state laws should go to jury trial while the idea of jury nullification should be widespread and emphasized. We should make it impossible to assemble a jury that does not include members that who would refuse to convict a defendant who was following state statutes.

    Then it might be possible to go after asset forfeiture with some jurors absolutely refusing to allow seizure in civil cases. Emphasize the libertarian view of the big bad government.

  • wilsim

    Federal law does indeed trump state law.

    However, Obama promised over and over while campaigning to halt the drug busts on medical marijuana dispensaries, distributors, growers, and users.

    He said this was an issue best left to the individual states to decide.

  • jamessweet

    If a federal law overrides state law wouldn’t it void those laws as seems to happen when the US constitution is found to override a state law?

    The short answer is: It depends.

    The US constitution gives the federal government certain powers, and reserves the rest for the states. So the theory is, if the federal government tried to pass a law regarding something which was not within its delegated powers, that law would be unconstitutional and state law would trump it.

    Over the years, constitutional case law has greatly expanded the interpretation of which powers are delegated to the federal government. FWIW, I think this is mostly a good thing — the drafters of the US constitution were a bit over-paranoid about strong central governance, what with having just fought a revolution against British screw-overy.

    Regulation of medical marijuana is in somewhat of a gray zone. Some would say that the federal government does not have a right to intervene in this case; others argue that it does.

    I am highly skeptical of basically all medical marijuana claims, but I support it nonetheless as a backdoor to decriminalization. As to the federal government interfering with states’ choice to legalize, I don’t object to federal interference on general principle, but I think if there were ever a case that called for federal restraint, this is it. To clarify what I’m saying: I don’t think the federal government is violating the constitution by circumventing state laws allowing medical marijuana, but I think it is a terrible idea nonetheless.

  • LightningRose

    We’re not seeing it in Colorado. There have been noises about the Feds shutting down MMJ shops within 1000 ft of a school (I believe state law permits 500 ft), but that’s about it. The city of Boulder has about 90 shops for a population of less than 100000, and Denver has roughly twice as many MMJ outlets as Starbucks.

  • zxcier

    Has anyone considered why his administration might be doing this? I consider Obama a fairly reasonable person (w.r.t. GWB which isn’t saying much), and I just can’t fathom any political, economic, budgetary, or moral reason why this is a good idea, when they could just back of and probably nobody would notice. Maybe there’s a turf war and the DEA is trying to remain valid? Maybe it’s at the end of a long list of priorities? Not to let Obama off the hook for not effectually controlling every aspect of the vast federal bureaucracy, but given his past positions I think it’d really help to figure out what’s really going on. Probably could then do something more effective than just criticizing him when, AFAIK he himself hasn’t really mentioned it all.

  • rork

    zxcier: It’s my question too.

    Is it just another place where it’s best (and pretty easy) to not act like a liberal? I doubt the opposition will scream he is being too tough. Maybe that suffices.

  • slc1

    And, of course, as usual, the lame stream media never questions the president on the issue on the infrequent occasions when he holds a news conference.

  • Obama is doing this because he is being told to do it by the pharmaceutical industry. Whether state or federal governments hold sway is irrelevant. He is breaking his word.

    Meanwhile it is my understanding (sorry, no cite available) that pharma companies have or want to patent the THC molecule.

  • matty1

    @James Sweet,

    Thank you but not quite what I meant. Lets see if I can be clearer.

    There is or seems to be a ranking constitution> federal law> state law. I understand that in some cases this may run constitution> state law> federal law but in any individual case there is surely some ranking even if it has to be imposed arbitrarily. Now back to my point.


    constitution> federal law> state law


    constitution> state law


    federal law> state law

    Now in the first case if a court finds a conflict between the constitution and state law the state law in question becomes unenforceable -yes?

    So I would think in the second case if a court found that federal law> state law applies and there is a conflict the state law would be similarly unenforceable. It should be no more possible to make marijuana is legal in Colorado than to make Islam the official state religion. The higher law would cancel out the lower one.

    This does not appear to be happening, no one is saying the state MMJ laws are unenforceable they are treated as valid laws but contradictory federal laws enforced as well.

    Does that do any better explaining what I’m confused about?

  • I don’t know why Obama would do this, since none of it will stop conservatives spreading the fear about Obama’s liberal commie hedonistic political beliefs. After all, he’s just biding his time until he no longer has to run for re-election before setting about destroying the America we love…

    One can only hope that these conservatives are right…

  • Michael Heath

    reverendrodney writes:

    Obama is doing this because he is being told to do it by the pharmaceutical industry.

    Citation requested.

  • matty1,

    don’t forget state constitutions too.

    What you have to understand is that Congress may only legislate in the areas mentioned in the constitution, thus federal laws must always fulfill this requirement. The enumerated powers of Congress include things like currency, measures, national defence etc., but most crucially, the regulation of inter-state commerce (with the exception of alcohol. When prohibition ended, the Twenty-First Amendment ending it gave states the right to regulate commerce of alcohol across state border).

    The scope of inter-state commerce has grown over the years, for instance now it also includes labour regulations, and for some part environmental ones.

    So for the marihuana law, the federal law would only be applicable if the inter-state commerce clause was fulfilled. I think the govt could argue that the operation is of a multi-state nature, or its economic impact is not just limited to the state.

    If the case would not fall under the inter-state commerce clause, then the state law would prevail.

    However, there is another exception: in matters Congress may not legislate, like abortion for instance, state law must still conform to the Bill of Rights, as has been established by the Fourteenth Amendment. This is how the Supreme Court could decide the matter in Roe v Wade, while Congress couldn’t.

    Now, I’m pretty sure if Congress introduced same-sex marriage on the federal level, that would only affect federal law, like the federal income tax etc. (But if there is a way to argue this under the inter-state commerce clause, I’d like to know it). Of course an Amendment, on the other hand, would be binding to states too, but this could merely be started by Congress, as a constitutional amendment would need to be ratified by a supermajority of states.

    Note: IANAL, so if I got anything wrong, let me know…

  • Michael Heath: This isn’t exactly a citation but I trust that this article is accurate, and it supports my belief that Obama does what big pharma says… at the expense of his integrity.


  • Michael Heath

    reverendrodney writes:

    Obama is doing this [Obama’s war on pot] because he is being told to do it by the pharmaceutical industry.

    My response:

    Citation requested.

    reverendrodney responds:

    This isn’t exactly a citation but I trust that this article is accurate, and it supports my belief that Obama does what big pharma says… at the expense of his integrity.


    I trust this article is correct as well, it’s common knowledge to those who followed the health care reform effort, i.e., covered by many other reporters where their reported findings are consistent with this article. However this article doesn’t present any evidence which supports your conjecture as fact, none. It doesn’t even address the subject.

    So I think you’re correct to retreat from presenting this assertion as fact as you originally did to noting it’s instead a belief of yours. But I would argue one requiring faith if you were to continue to present it as fact as you originally did where faith in this case is as good as it is when applied to any matter – worthless. In fact such an approach could constrain our ability to consider other possible motivating reasons, some of which may actually be premised on evidence.

  • Akira MacKenzie

    I think you’ll find that Obama’s flip flop is simpler than that: When he is running in 2008, he needed to court the younger, liberal voters, so it’s pander to the stoners. Now when he can count of establishment Democrats to back him (not to mention the political Hell the anti-drug Right would release if he actually DID go through with his promises) he can afford to throw the the drug decriminalization activists under the bus (as he has done with homosexuals and secularists) and portray himself as something more conservative.

  • slc1

    Re Akira MacKenzie @ #16

    he can afford to throw the the drug decriminalization activists under the bus (as he has done with homosexuals and secularists) and portray himself as something more conservative.

    I don’t exactly see how he has “thrown homosexuals under the bus.” He stated before the election in 2008 that he was not in favor of same sex marriage but did support same sex civil unions (the same position as his opponent, Hillary Clinton) so that was known going in. He has ended DADT. Doesn’t sound much like throwing under the bus.

  • Akira MacKenzie

    Until Barry actually, publicly says that he supports same-sex marriage and implements policy to protect it, he’s just paying lip service to the issue. His response to DADA and DOMA are not nearly good enough.