Obama Breaks Medical Marijuana Promise; How will his G.O.P. Challengers Respond?

Nearly two years ago, President Obama’s Justice Department announced a hands off approach concerning the states that passed “compassionate use” laws which legalized selling and using marijuana for medical purposes provided that all parties concerned operated within the state’s law. This seemed to give those who wanted to go through the legal processes to either operate a dispensary or acquire the paperwork to use marijuana within state guidelines the green light to proceed without worrying too much about federal drug laws – at least as long as Obama was president. Now it seems that the Obama administration is changing this policy, leaving patients and suppliers who operated in good faith on very shaky legal ground.

According to The Associated Press, at least 16 California dispensary owners and landlords received letters putting them on notice that they must close down their operations within 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property.

In the same article, Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the president’s drug czar is quoted as saying “This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The administration is simply making good on multiple threats issued since President Obama took office.”

To be fair, I don’t recall ever reading anything from the administration that explicitly promised they wouldn’t prosecute individuals under federal law but it certainly seemed that at the very least, medical marijuana patients and providers would be a very low priority for prosecution. Patients and practitioners had to know that there would be at least some legal risks even with Obama in office and realize that the next president could just as easily change the policy.

This presents a very interesting opportunity to find out which G.O.P. presidential candidates are truly committed to the notion of federalism (especially where the Tenth Amendment is concerned) and those who are not. Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Gary Johnson obviously favor ending the war on (some) drugs and would clearly restore state sovereignty on this and other issues. Gov. Rick Perry in his book Fed Up! (as quoted here) writes:

Again, the best example is an issue I don’t even agree with—the partial legalization of marijuana. Californians clearly want some level of legalized marijuana, be it for medicinal use or otherwise. The federal government is telling them they cannot. But states are not bound to enforce federal law, and the federal government cannot commandeer state resources and require them to enforce it.

Rick Santorum seems to be the least committed to the notion of state sovereignty as he pillories Gov. Perry for this and other positions regarding state laws he deems to be “moral wrongs.”

It’s certainly Gov. Perry right to believe marriage can be redefined at the state level, that marijuana can be legalized and that tax dollars should be used to give illegal aliens special college tuition rates, but that’s completely out of touch with what most Americans believe.

So says the man who is polling at 2.7% (RCP Average).

Regardless of what one thinks about medical marijuana legalization at the state level or federalism in general, those who find themselves in legal limbo deserve to have a clear answer to where they stand. The candidates should all agree that this vague, unpredictable policy is unacceptable.

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  • Phil

    I wish there were a list of things that an individual is either forbidden to do or mandated to do because of federal law or regulations. Just simple things. Can anyone direct me to such a list?

  • Akston

    “Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.”

    – Ayn Rand

  • Phil

    Akston, I do not know if you were addressing my comment. I happen to agree with Ayn Rand, but her ideal is certainly not what we are living under.

    I just wonder if anyone has combed federal law and regulatory rules for things that limit our choices.

    An example is a rule on TV set manufacture. It is impossible to make, and therefore impossible to buy, a TV that receives only your favorite channels.

  • Akston

    The quote was not directed at you per se, but your post reminded me of it. I think her ideal is a good direction in which to strive, and is poorly understood lately.

    Every other word in American history and literature is freedom or liberty. Candidates toss it around lightly, but many people seem to have forgotten what it actually means as it becomes suffused in fear, envy and busybody government.

    Voluntary activities engaged in by peaceful adult citizens should not be criminalized in a “free country”. But as you write, this is not what we’re currently living under.

    I fear the answer to your question is: The laws, regulations, and rules are far too numerous and vague and contradictory to count. Last year, the Heritage Foundation published a paper:

    Regulatory page counts. One of the most commonly used yardsticks of regulatory activity is the size of the daily Federal Register, which reports regulatory changes. Before any new federal rule can be finalized, the agency proposing the rule must have it published in the register. In 2008, the Federal Register hit a record 79,435 pages for the year.[6] In 2009, the number dropped to 68,598. Such a decrease is not unusual in presidential transition years.

    The size of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provides a second yardstick of regulatory activity. Unlike the Federal Register, which is a catalog of regulatory changes, the CFR is a compendium of all existing regulations. In 2008, the CFR weighed in at 157,974 pages, having increased by 16,693 pages since the start of the George W. Bush Administration.[7] In 2009, the page count hit a record high of 163,333.

    This, of course, reminds me of another Rand quote:

    ”Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against—then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau


    Interesting discussion. There’s a book by Harvey Silvergate entitled “Three Felonies a Day” that deals with this very topic. I haven’t got around to reading it but according to the author:

    The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague.

  • Akston

    I’ll put that on my list. Sounds interesting (if sadly correct).