FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama’s Mixed Messages on Marijuana

Two days after Barack Obama became President, DEA agents led a raid on a South Lake Tahoe dispensary run by a wheelchair-bound entrepreneur named Ken Estes. They seized about five pounds of cannabis and a few thousands dollars. They arrested no one. “It was a typical rip-and-run” said a friend who had spoken with Estes.

In years past, when dispensaries run by Estes had been closed by law enforcement, activists would tsk-tsk about the looseness of his management style, as if Estes had drawn the heat on himself. This time Ol’ Ken was seen as a brave, tax-paying victim and scorn was directed at the DEA for ignoring Obama’s alleged promise to end such raids. A few verbal militants blamed the new President himself for not seeing to it that his “promise” was kept from the day he took office.
What, if anything, has Obama promised with respect to the marijuana laws? A message posted on the Obama for America website  after Nov. 4 disparaged DEA raids on dispensaries, but the syntax is garbled, the objection is to individual patients getting arrested, and the authorship is anonymous and unofficial: “Many states have laws that condone medical marijuana, but the Bush Administration is using federal drug enforcement agents to raid these facilities and arrest seriously ill people. Focusing scarce law enforcement resources on these patients who pose no threat while many violent and highly dangerous drug traffickers are at large makes no sense. Senator Obama will not continue the Bush policy when he is president.”

On the campaign trail when Obama was asked by a Willamette Week reporter, “Would you stop the DEA’s raids on Oregon medical marijuana growers?” he replied, “I would because I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism. The way I want to approach the issue of medical marijuana is to base it on science, and if there is sound science that supports the use of medical marijuana and if it is controlled and prescribed in a way that other medicine is prescribed, then it’s something that I think we should consider.”

In March 2008, also in Oregon (where a primary win would give him the nomination), Obama told Gary Nelson of the Medford Mail Tribune:

“When it comes to medical marijuana, I have more of a practical view than anything else. My attitude is that if it’s an issue of doctors prescribing medical marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma or as a cancer treatment, I think that should be appropriate because there really is no difference between that and a doctor prescribing morphine or anything else.

“I think there are legitimate concerns in not wanting to allow people to grow their own or start setting up mom and pop shops because at that point it becomes fairly difficult to regulate. [Obama must have gotten input from parties that don’t like the way cannabis is produced and distributed in Oregon, California and the other mmj states.]

“Again, I’m not familiar with all the details of the initiative that was passed [in Oregon] and what safeguards there were in place, but I think the basic concept that using medical marijuana in the same way, with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that’s entirely appropriate…

“I would not punish doctors if it’s prescribed in a way that is appropriate. That may require some changes in federal law. I will tell you that — I mean I want to be honest with you±whether I want to use a whole lot of political capital on that issue when we’re trying to get health care passed or end the war in Iraq, the likelihood of that being real high on my list is not likely… 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. We’ve got a lot of things for our law enforcement officers to deal with.”

Two Misleading Assumptions

Obama’s comment about using his political capital to achieve more important goals was said in a tone and accompanied by a smile that conveyed,  “This is a reality that you and I both understand…”  But it’s a self-fulfilling reality that involves two misleading assumptions.  You and I and Barack Obama and Nelson of the Mail-Tribune know that the polls consistently show 75-80% of the American people wanting the marijuana laws to allow medical use. Relatively few voters woud be alienated if the new President directed the DEA to respect the relevant state laws  –or if his Attorney General classified marijuana as something other than a Schedule-1 drug. Those steps would not be unpopular with the masses and taking them would only cost Obama “political capital” if he’s defining it as something other than “popular support.”  So he must be referring to his political capital vis-à-vis the corporate elites and a Congress that does their bidding.

And why assume ending marijuana prohibition would be a less significant political achievement than reforming the healthcare system or getting US troops out of Iraq?  Looking back at the changes  effected in 1932, ending alcohol prohibition doesn’t seem trivial compared to the public works projects and economic reforms instituted by FDR in response to the depression.

If and when impediments to medical marijuana use are removed and the American people begin to avail themselves of it en masse, the pharmaceutical manufacturers will lose a third or more of their sales.

This unspoken consequence of legalizing medical marijuana is a certainty. Want proof? Doctors who have monitored cannabis use by hundreds of thousands of patients in California and Oregon can document a consistent pattern of decreased use of pharmaceuticals –a 50% reduction of opioid use, for example. Recall that the present depression was precipitated by a small drop in housing prices. The demise of Big Pharma would, in and of itself, impel healthcare reform.

Our prevailing “healthcare system” has been configured to maximize drug-company profits, not the well-being of the American people.
Ken Estes said it perfectly to KTVU’s Patti Lee, who did a piece about the raid that shut him down: “I know Obama’s got really serious issues. This is actually one of the serious issues…” The Jan. 22 raid in South Lake Tahoe might have been averted if drug-policy reform lobbyists in Washington had clout with Obama’s transition team. They didn’t. George Soros and Peter Lewis paid –millions in campaign contributions– but their operatives didn’t get to “play…” Whether the feds will continue to raid California growers and distributors should be clarified when a new DEA Administrator is nominated by Attorney General Eric Holder and appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Pat Leahy of Vermont.

Desperately Seeking Drug Czar

Former Biden aide Chris Putala —a former  boyfriend of Anne Coulter— is one of two transition team members in charge of finding a new director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, i.e., drug czar.  On Inauguration Day the White House quietly  named an acting interim director  — Ed Jurith, who has been ONDCP’s  chief counsel since 1994.  Jurith served as placeholder czar in the year-long interregnum between Gen. Barry McCaffrey and John Walters. In the 1980s Jurith helped draft the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts creating the ONDCP (and mandatory minimums, and the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, among other cruel provisions). Sen. Joe Biden sponsored legislation creating the Acts.

The other transition teamer involved in the drug czar search is Dr. Don Vereen, a former ONDCP functionary who has expressed disdain for doctors who approve cannabis use.

Nor one of the reform lobbies –not NORML, Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance, or the Marijuana Policy Project— has called for abolishing the Drug Czar’s office and putting drug policy under the Surgeon General, where it belongs.  Their honchos will all say privately that they agree, of course, that the Drug Czar’s office has done nothing but spread Prohibitionist propaganda from its inception. But calling for its abolition would cost them their coveted –and illusory—“seat at the table.”

FRED GARDNER edits O’Shaughnessy’s, a pro-cannabis doctors journal. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com.

More articles by:

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omaorosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail