FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Colorado’s War on Medical Marijuana

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

[A] drug which takes away grief and passion and brings a forgetfulness of all ills.

— Homer, The Iliad

Two events took place in June that suggested a primer on how medical marijuana laws are working in Colorado might be appropriate.  The first was an appellate court decision that the state Supreme Court declined to review. The holding was that if an employer has a zero-tolerance drug policy and an employee who uses medical marijuana tests positive and is discharged, the employee is not entitled to unemployment benefits even though the use of medical marijuana is not proscribed by state law.

The second event of note was a newspaper announcement that the Sunday night CBS news program “60 Minutes” had interviewed Stan Garnett, Boulder, Colorado’s District Attorney, with respect to medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Colorado.  Since the interview will not be broadcast until fall, an update might help those who wonder what is happening in the world of  medical marijuana in Colorado.  Although only applicable to Colorado, readers elsewhere can see how the Obama administration has lived up to promises made during the 2008 campaign.

During the 2008 campaign Mr. Obama said, with respect to medical marijuana laws, that if elected:  “What I’m not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue simply because I want folks to be investigating violent crimes and potential terrorism.”  In February 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder said what the president said during the campaign “is now American policy” and in a subsequent press conference said the policy is to “go after those people who violate both federal and state law. . . .”  The administration did not rely on those statements to let people know what official policy was. David Ogden, then the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, put it in writing so everyone would understand.

October 19, 2009,  Mr. Ogden, sent a memorandum to the U.S. attorneys in states that authorized the sale and use of medical marijuana.  Its stated purpose was to provide “clarification and guidance to federal prosecutors.”  Mr. Ogden began by saying:  “Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime. . . .” However, he went on to say that “selected U.S. attorneys” to whom he sent his memorandum should “not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”  Mr. Ogden and Colorado’s U.S. Attorney, John Walsh, would have been well served had Mr. Ogden stopped there since it was clear what he meant.  He didn’t.   After explaining  the meaning of  “clear and unambiguous” as used in his memorandum  he went on to say that “no State can authorize violations of federal law” which is, of course, exactly what medical marijuana legislation does.  If a U.S. attorney decides to prosecute someone, Mr. Ogden continued,  it is not necessary to prove that a state law was violated. The memorandum, he said, does not “’legalize’ marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law. . . . Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law . . .   provide a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.”  He repeats that in the penultimate paragraph of his memorandum saying the memorandum is not intended to preclude investigation  “in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests.”  The foregoing, as all but the dullest reader can immediately see, is a crystal clear roadmap for U.S. Attorneys who wonder whom to prosecute.  And that brings the curious to Colorado and to the even curiouser John Walsh.

Colorado citizens amended their state constitution in 2000 to permit the medical use of marijuana effective June 1, 2001.  In 2010 a law was enacted that regulates medical marijuana dispensaries.  John Walsh, apparently confused by the Ogden memo, has concluded that he can prosecute those who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with Colorado law as stated in the Ogden memorandum. In January, March and May, he sent waves of letters to dispensaries within 1000 feet of  schools telling them they must close and describing in great detail the draconian penalties that may be imposed if they do not.  Mr. Walsh was not concerned about whether local governments were content to have dispensaries closer than 1000 feet to schools as Colorado law permits .

Mr. Garnett wrote Mr. Walsh in March expressing his opinion that the U.S. Attorney’s office could, instead of going after dispensaries,  better use its efforts dealing with “terrorism, serious economic crime,  organized crime and serious drug dealing. . . .” In response, Mr. Walsh said in effect, that his views about how far dispensaries should be from schools overrode local governments’ views. He did not say how his actions comported with Mr. Ogden’s memorandum.

What the Colorado court ruled does not run afoul of what Mr. Obama promised during the 2008 campaign.  What Mr. Walsh has done, does. That is more than a pity.  It is a travesty.

Last week I said that Pope Benedict had made Cardinal Bernard Law the Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in RomeThe appointment was made by Pope John Paul II.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail