October 20, 2011 at 10:52 am EST | by Mark Lee
Obama’s assault on medical marijuana laws

Bill Clinton said he didn’t inhale. Barack Obama now says he doesn’t want anyone else to do so either — including HIV/AIDS patients, cancer sufferers and those with chronic disease and illness.

The president’s startling moves in recent weeks — despite his 2008 campaign promises and subsequent assurances that state medical marijuana laws would be respected — threaten the survival of programs and laws in the 16 states that have approved them and may derail or further delay the long-awaited and pending implementation of a voter-approved program in D.C.

He’s serious about it. This is not the usual “wink of the eye” position the public has grown accustomed to hearing from politicians on the issue. The Obama administration has announced that the federal government will utilize a full complement of its powers to prosecute and shut down state-sanctioned cultivation and distribution centers.

The president’s “hands-off” approach has swiftly vaporized.

During the last campaign, Obama pledged that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws.”

All that changed with a recent U.S. Department of Justice memo proffering a dire warning: “We maintain the authority to enforce [federal law] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

The effect of these federal directives threatening harsh criminal sanctions is already being felt around the country.

Arizona, where a 2010 voter referendum approving a program was in the process of being set up, has put implementation on hold. Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a statewide proposal that would have created licensed dispensaries on the day after federal raids on two businesses in Spokane and both of the state’s U.S. Attorneys warned her that even state employees could be prosecuted for their role in marijuana regulation. Gov. Chris Christie wants to delay New Jersey’s implementation of the state’s new medical marijuana law until there is some clarity about the legal jeopardy for workers and operators. Warning letters have been sent to government officials in Colorado, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

On Oct. 7, all four California federal prosecutors announced a coordinated plan to shut down state dispensaries, setting a 45-day deadline for compliance. They warned operators and their landlords that failure will result in criminal charges, with seven civil forfeiture complaints already filed against property owners. At least one landlord is facing up to 40 years in federal prison, property seizure and forfeiture of all rental proceeds for the last 15 years since voter approval of the program in 1996.

Even the IRS and the Treasury Department are now in on the game.

Two weeks ago, the IRS sent a $2.4 million tax bill to Oakland’s largest medical marijuana dispensary and has begun audits on at least 12 others in the state and has sent letters to landlords warning that the feds could seize their property at any time, citing a portion of U.S. tax code that prohibits illegal drug-trafficking organizations from deducting business expenses.

Colorado’s gay Rep. Jared Polis has introduced legislation requiring the IRS to allow all businesses — including marijuana dispensaries — to deduct expenses. “There are more pressing issues facing federal law enforcement, so it makes no sense for them to waste time and taxpayer money interfering with state-legal businesses that voters have approved, that are well regulated and that generate jobs and economic activity,” he has said.

“The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick,” proclaimed U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy. “It’s a pervasive for-profit industry that violates federal law.”

Like a memorably harsh bong hit, this kind of talk signals a clear and shocking policy shift on the part of the White House.

Among more cynical health advocates and caregivers, the Obama administration is motivated by a desire to eliminate less expensive market competition for pharmaceutical manufacturers preparing to introduce new products like Sativex, a proprietary liquid extract of cannabis.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says that “Barack Obama . . . seems determined to recriminalize as much as possible. It all adds up to bad policy, bad politics and bad faith.”

  • Great, Now the Fat Man will never get NJ’s legal law started. He has been delaying this for years. This is so stupid.

  • I thought Chris Christie was moving full steam ahead with NJ’s MMJ program? No? Damn, that’s sad. As to California, their MMJ laws do not allow dispensaries, per se, only cooperatives (a legal form of incorporation) and collectives (fuzzy less “official” versions of cooperatives) and individual caretaker or patient growers. And while there are certainly “real deal” dispensary-like ops in CA that are honestly about providing relief to patients, there are also many for whom the only important “green” is the dollar and since CA’s laws require non-profit status they got gigged. Live, learn: CA was the first state to decriminalize, apparently underestimated the greed factor, and now has some cleaning up to do. At least other states can learn from this and run tight enough ships to keep the feds at bay — if the states have the MMJ “situation” under control, there is no need for the feds to waste resources on a non- problem, right? (Sadly, in CA, the situation was apparently very much out of control, with some municipalities asking the Feds to step in.) Which brings us back to New Jersey, reportedly home of the tightest regs among MMJ+ states — why hast thou forsaken us, Gov. Christie?

    Note that this comment is about /medical/ cannabis, not recreational (with which I and many folks don’t have a problem), which is another discussion — I think many folks are conflating the two.

  • The money hungry feds have gone too far and it’s time for the public to stand up to this ignorance. Alcohol is OK but pot isn’t? Prescription drug abuse is a bigger problem yet the Feds won’t shoot themselves in the foot and thwart that industry. Creating addictions and incarcerating people is a good market for them.

    Where is the real problem? All these stoned people should be causing more mayhem than what the law and paranoia expects. And if kids need to wait until 21 to officially drink, pot can follow that route.

    Obama’s about face may only be temporary. It’s being used as a scare tactic. Stopping the spread of dispensaries was key to get a handle on who is doing legit biz.

    I’m for less red tape on harmless things the masses feel is right for them. And I enjoy the medication value of the green too. good for old bones. more seniors should investigate the qualities.

  • living the not so "california dreamin"

    I live in California, am a medical patient, have grown Medical Cannabis and supplied clubs and I can honestly say that we do have a large influx of Medical Marijuana Clubs here since the law passed but the real problem is not the number of clubs or the increase in number of patients. The real problem here is the fact that, especially the clubs in lower So Cal, the product is coming from our horrible neighbors from the south. Those clubs that are run by the illegals provide product from good ole’ Mexico instead of coming from people that actually care about the patients and take pride in their product. I do understand that 50% of a clubs profit goes back to the growers but let’s take a realistic view on the whole legalization process. Let’s put the growers on the books and on the payroll. Any grower who has their ducks in a row will agree that they would like to do business legally and would rather provide their product to those in their community in need as well as do what they love to do without feeling like a criminal. There is nothing criminal about helping out a person in need. The real issue throughout all of this has to do with illegal immigrants and the border control issue. If we had a stronghold on the border, shut down all the tunnels from America to Mexico and deported anyone of an illegal status, no matter their race, there would be no issue. But, unfortunately, everyone involved in these aspects loves money, like most of us and if they are able to make a much larger profit for allowing things to happen that they can say they “have no control over,” and turn a blind eye then they will. I guess what I’m saying is America has gone from the land of the free to the land of the greed. Until we get the greed out of the people who control large policies, we will get nowhere. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    From my own personal stand point, I know that if it had not been for marijuana and the legalization, I would be dead right now. Most of my life from childhood I had a lot of depression, had suicidal tendencies in high school and have had many traumatic events happen to me in my young adult years. It all went undiagnosed for a long time and the first time I tried marijuana it was recreational and it was the first time in my life that I knew what other people normally felt like. The blue tint was gone and I could actually smile for real without faking it for everyone else. I genuinely felt happy. I believe there are a lot of people like me who use marijuana recreationally because they go undiagnosed with a health care system that it controlled by the pharmaceutical companies. If our main treatment for patients was to cure the origin of the illness or use natural products such as plants and herbs to cure or help instead of drugging up our nation with harsh chemicals that harm more than help, I believe there would be no issue with the legalization and distribution of marijuana. But once again, this issue comes down to greed. I believe we need to fight greed since it seems to be the root of all our sociological problems. Look at our politicians, drug dealer, heads of the pharmaceutical companies, heads and CEOs of large corporations, underhanded swindlers…..GREED. Let’s learn from this and be a bit more humble and a little more willing to give. Do unto others as you would like done to you. Where did we forget the golden rule?

  • I’ve said it from the beginning and I’ll say it again.. Fuck Barrack Obama! He can’t even uphold the only positive aspects of the democratic party, the ability to remain immune to corporate bribery, but it would seem that the beloved Obama has fallen to his knees sucking down and regurgitating whatever the pharmaceutical companies care to ejaculate in his direction.

  • Typical government hypocrisy. They cite greed as the villain, yet out is the greed of the pharmaceutical industry driving the attempted crackdown

  • The US’s new slogan should be “Growing more communist by the minute”

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