When Obama first took office in 2009, he promised a drug policy more focused on public health. However, recent statements from the DEA and raids on medical marijuana providers have proved otherwise. External pressures are escalating as drug cartel-led violence across the border intensifies. Internal pressures are also becoming more widespread, as the public is seeing few changes affecting drug policy. Obama should seriously consider re-evaluating his approach to drug policy for his 2012 campaign.
Voters narrowly approved a ballot initiative last November allowing medical marijuana in the state, but the result has been just the opposite of an orderly system of dispensing cannabis to the truly sick. Rather, police raids, surreptitious money transfers and unofficial pot clubs have followed passage of the new law, creating a chaotic situation not far removed from the black-market system that has always existed.
Like every section that's left of the mostly vetoed medical-marijuana-reform law that passed in April, section 403 is vague, confusing, and inadequate to the task of regulating cannabis. Section 403, however, might be the single most important scrap of law to survive Gov. Chris Gregoire's veto pen. It's from this section, after all, that the City of Seattle, just three days ago, effectively legalized medical-marijuana gardens and dispensaries (city officials prefer the term "access points").
The uncertainty comes after lawmakers worked for months on a plan that would help clear up the state's medical marijuana laws. The Legislature approved a plan that would have created a system to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. But Gregoire, citing fears that state workers could face federal prosecution for participating in the licensing scheme, vetoed much of it. The remaining parts of the law allow collective marijuana grows with up to 45 plants, serving up to 10 patients.
The Seattle City Council unanimously passed rules Monday requiring that medical marijuana operations be licensed, obtain food-handling permits if they sell marijuana-infused cookies or other items, and follow all other regulations such as land use and historic preservation codes. The approach is the opposite of what several other local cities have done - imposing moratoriums on such operations. A spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn said he expects to sign the measure quickly.
In October 2009, medical marijuana advocates celebrated a U.S. Department of Justice memo declaring that federal authorities wouldn't target the legal use of medicinal pot in states where it is permitted. The memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden was credited with accelerating a California medical marijuana boom, including a proliferation of dispensaries that now handle more than $1 billion in pot transactions. But last month brought a new memo from another deputy attorney general, James Cole. And this time, it is stirring industry fears of federal raids on pot dispensaries and sweeping crackdowns on large-scale medical pot cultivation.
In the last few months, officials in New Jersey, as well as several other states, have said that mixed signals from the Obama administration have left them unsure whether their medical marijuana programs could draw federal prosecution of the people involved, including state employees.
President Obama came into office promising to reverse George W. Bush administration practices and elevate science over politics. He explicitly applied that principle to drug policy, an area long driven by ideology and prejudice. He promoted three evidence-based drug policies: eliminating the ban on states using federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis; reforming the racially unjust crack-cocaine sentencing disparity that punished crack offenses more harshly than powder offenses; and vowing to end years of federal interference in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. But as a recent L.A. Times article makes dismayingly clear, the White House is putting the "science-free zone" sign back up.
A committee of the Seattle City Council grappled Wednesday with a proposed ordinance for medical-marijuana cooperatives. It would be much easier for Seattle to ban them, as some suburban cities have done — and it would be wrong. Ultimately, marijuana prohibition has to end. The next step is to defend the providers of medical patients. Seattle's job will be to set up a system of regulation that is so clearly reasonable, and supported by people here, that prosecution of licensed suppliers will be a risk the federal government chooses not to take.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ruled that marijuana has "no accepted medical use" and should therefore remain illegal under federal law — regardless of conflicting state legislation allowing medical marijuana and despite hundreds of studies and centuries of medical practice attesting to the drug's benefits. Not only does this decision conflict with state laws, however, it also conflicts with a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the branch of the National Academy of Sciences charged with answering complex medical questions for Congress.
Marijuana has been approved by California, many other states and the nation's capital to treat a range of illnesses, but in a decision the federal government ruled that it has no accepted medical use and should remain classified as a highly dangerous drug like heroin. The decision by the DEA comes almost nine years after medical marijuana supporters asked the government to reclassify cannabis to take into account a growing body of worldwide research that shows its effectiveness in treating certain diseases, such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
Colorado's medical-marijuana industry took a battering from all sides, as new laws restricting the businesses took effect and the Obama administration made its most explicit threat yet that dispensary raids are still possible. Perhaps the most pressing challenge to Colorado's medical-marijuana businesses came in a U.S. Department of Justice memo. In this week's memo, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote that people "who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana and those who knowingly facilitate such activities" are in violation of federal law, regardless of their state laws.