Obama Administration Steps Up Its Rhetoric In Medical Marijuana States

The Obama administration’s position on medical marijuana, circa 2009 (via the Ogden memo to all United States attorneys):
“The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Department’s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs, and the Department’s investigative and prosecutorial resources should be directed towards these objectives. As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities 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.”
The Obama administration’s position on medical marijuana, circa 2011 (via the May 2, 2011 letter sent from the office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona, to the Arizona Department of Health Services re: the implementation of the voter-approved Medical Marijuana Program):
“The United States Attorneys Office … will vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in the unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
A lot can change in two years — including the administration’s attitude toward the state-authorized use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes.
In April, NORML blogged about the U.S. Department of Justice, particularly U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Michael Ormsby of Spokane, threatening “civil and criminal legal remedies” (read: sanctions) against Washington state citizens, including state employees, who assist with or engage in the production or distribution of medical cannabis, “even if such activities are permitted under state law.” The U.S. Attorneys’ threats came in response to an inquiry from Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, who most likely was seeking ‘political cover’ so that she could publicly ‘justify’ her veto of legislation (SB 5073) that sought to license and regulate the dispensing of medical cannabis to qualified persons, and would have enacted additional legal protections for patients who voluntarily participated in a statewide registry. The threats worked; Gov. Gregoire cited them in her veto statement Friday.
In fact, the threats worked so well, that in recent days U.S. Attorneys in other states with active medical marijuana programs have begun issuing similar menacing statements.
Last week in Colorado, where state regulators have licensed over 800 state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent a letter to the state’s Attorney General alleging that the federal Justice Department will “vigorously” prosecute individuals or organizations engaged in “unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.” A spokesman for Walsh’s office adds, “In the eye of the federal government, there’s only one type of marijuana. And marijuana is a Schedule I controlled [federally prohibited] substance.”
Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke fired off a similarly worded letter this week to Will Humble, the director of the state Department of Health Services, which is overseeing the implementation of Proposition 203. Under the law, which was approved by voters last fall and was enacted on April 15, the state must register qualified patients who have a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis and also license dispensaries to provide it to them. However, according to Burke, said dispensaries that are compliant with the state’s law will “not [be] protect[ed] from [federal] criminal prosecution, asset forfeiture, and other civil penalties.”
Finally, in Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced this week that he is suspending the state’s nascent medical marijuana distribution program, set to begin this June. In March, the representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Health selected three applicants to operate the state’s first-ever, government licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. (The dispensaries program was initially approved by lawmakers in 2009, but the winning applicants were not decided upon until two years later.) Predictably, Chafee’s abrupt change of heart came after receiving a hand-delivered letter from U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha Friday threatening to prosecute civilly and/or criminally those involved in the dispensary program.
So what’s the impetus for the Obama administration’s sudden decision to play rhetorical hard ball? NORML Outreach Coordinator and podcaster Russ Belville speculates:

“Mr. Obama’s … true intention is to stifle the development of any viable legal cannabis distribution industry. By sending threat letters to Rhode Island and Arizona, states that have created clear and unambiguous laws for medical cannabis providers to follow, it is obvious that Mr. Obama isn’t opposed to medical cannabis, per se, but terribly opposed to medical cannabusiness.
Belville adds: “If (medical cannabusiness) establish (themselves), people will become accustomed to safe, secure, well-run businesses that deliver consistent, reliable, tested cannabis products. They’ll appreciate the way these places revitalize sagging economies, provide jobs, and contribute taxes to budget-starved localities. They’ll realize all the scaremongering by the government about what would happen if marijuana was legal, even for sick people, was hysterical propaganda. [And] they’ll begin to wonder why we don’t just legalize cannabis for everyone, create more jobs, raise more revenue, and use these established businesses as the distribution points.”

133 thoughts

  1. President Obama has officially lost my vote. Likewise, any one who opposes marijuana reform will not get my vote!

  2. “it is obvious that Mr. Obama isn’t opposed to medical cannabis, per se, but terribly opposed to medical cannabusiness.”
    Russ, I agree with the vast majority of what you say. However I must add my 2 cents and say that Obama IS against MMJ. Don’t give this “man” any credit. He obviously thinks of patients like me as terrorists.
    [Editor’s note: Claiming that the feds and Obama treat patients like terrorists is a ridiculous thing to write. Patients, as compared to a few large retail sellers and growers, are NOT arrested and harassed by the feds.]

  3. The only ‘Refer Madness I see are the politicians that are SO SCARED to make any change and scared to make a stand for reform and change. Something so Simple ,growable and that ALREADY has A list of Good things that come from hemp, It is a SLAP in the Face to be told Hey Your dying and if you have any hope to live we must almost KILL YOU with Radiation But the only relief from it we won’t let you have BECAUSE IT WORKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. When CA legalized mmj and dispensaries began operating, the Feds raided them as CA state officials mostly stood back. However despite Feds efforts to quash dispensaries they lost the PR war badly and backed off. The battle then moved to localities, some favorable, many not. CA state politicians began to feel safe advocating for mmj. Politicians in other states do not yet feel confident about sticking their necks out for mmj. the Feds sensed an opportunity to get big mileage from strong threats, which are in many ways bluffs. But most state politicians A. aren’t super motivated to push for mmj B don’t really understand that federal capacity to prevail depends heavily on state cooperation. Were states to call the federal bluff with legalization etc, and withdrawal of states resources, the feds would then be forced to see if they could engage in a few high profile harsh prosecutions to see if they could scare away all the operators that they don’t have the resources to prosecute.
    How can we get state officials to call the feds bluff? Unfortunately an unlucky few would be targeted and pay a very high price but the feds simply can’t get them all or even more than a few.

  5. Great story, I still dislike the whole fear mongering thing. Why don’t the politicians that are issuing the lawyers get off their own asses and threaten the states instead of hiding behind their lawyers?

  6. I know some good people who need jobs who used to be salesmen. Perfect opportunity to create jobs and actually make politicians focus on real matters. We shouldn’t be wasting our time asking ourselves if it should be legal and what would be the consequences. Our founding fathers have more balls then we do now. SMH.

  7. This is a great point, because I believe no matter how much the people agree with Medical Cannabis the Feds aren’t going down without a unfair fight. This is proof of that. Even in a landslide victory nationwide in favor of Medical Cannabis would probably not bring an end to the “Prohibition”.
    With that being said, I will still use Cannabis if I feel as though I need it, for Medical purposes, regardless of who supports it or not. In my religion its a medicine and I won’t let anyone tell me how to live my life or cure my cancer. Only I know what is best for me. The government didn’t raise me or teach me anything. So why would I need them now.
    They should be worried about their money and the wars they start and not how people choose to heal themselves. Doctors heal, not politicians, or presidents

  8. To those in the last article who claimed that “Obama is going to legalize if he wins re-election”: Fail.
    And did you see the CNN is claiming they found marijuana reports at the Osama bin Ladin compound??? How timely.

  9. The reasoning is simple. DEA has agreed to allow testing and design of cannabis based medicines for the pharmecutical companies while stateing “smoked cannabis is not medicine” thereby allowing the industry to profit from cannabis and to hellp ensure that cannabis stays illegal. This will allow other indusrties who thrive on cannabis/hemp prohibition to continue to profit and provide campaign contributions. Simple political economics folks.

  10. Juat was wondering if anyone knows the new DNC: Debbie Sultze, policies on prohibition?

  11. yes Mr. Belville, complete legalization is the only answer. it will be accomplished by a ballot initiative referendum when enough people understand that the lawyers, politicians, and special interests are only considering their own personal agenda’s. until then, we can all watch thru the smoke and mirrors provided by years of propaganda. unfortunately, a lot of people believe the propaganda, even cannabis users.

  12. Cowards, all of them. It figures they would cower when the feds start talking big. We have to do it ourselves, what most of you have known all along. I am not scared, and I want my right to consume cannabis back!!!

  13. Who would have guessed that Obama’s Justice Dept would be tougher on marijuana than Bush’s?
    He lost my vote, too.

  14. We’ve gotta keep fighting and spreading the message of activism! Check out CannabisTV.org for tons of educational cannabis videos and watch Cannabis TV live online on Wednesdays at 8pm Pacific, it’s on right now actually. Spread the word.

  15. Have you guys at NORML started looking for other jobs yet? It seems you’re fighting a battle that you will NEVER win! What’s the point of having state mmj laws if the feds are going to prosecute anyway? It seems a big waste! Might as well try to come up with a program for the black market with all the energy you’re blowin on getting cannabis legalized on the fed level.

  16. Can anyone give any reason why they are stepping up spending on this issue? It defies all logic and common sense. Why are they trying to create an even larger prison state, when they could just as easily change their policy the other way and have a net gain of about $100 billion annually while substantially cutting unemployment. Why are they so idiotic? Someone tell me why, please?
    Holy shit, they do not deserve to be getting paid to create policies that “vigorously” enforce arresting people for using what is objectively one of the safest substances known to man. Disregarding all the science and personal freedom arguments that prove cannabis should be legalized, why are they at least not jumping on board with the economic argument?
    I wish everyone would just open their eyes and see that the feds are not only breaking OUR (not theirs) constitution by directly violating amendment 10, they are also spending our money (taxes) to do so. And it is incredibly obvious at this point that they want to create a prison state. The feds are not on the side of the American people. Keep that in mind at all times.

  17. Does Obama even realize that he lost all of the young voters who helped get him this one term? How is our president so dumb?

  18. Also, everyone jump on the Ron Paul bandwagon – let’s get him the official Republican candidacy. Decriminalization of all drugs makes so much more sense than our current absurd policy. You can look at it from any angle and reach this same objective conclusion. It’s not even an argument.

  19. I also really hope that leaders of the black community show this news to all the black people they know, and also make sure to emphasize that black people are already objectively treated unfairly by these laws, so “vigorously” enforcing them only hurts the black community.
    Thus, I hope they can get past the fact that they should vote for him just because of the color of his skin. He is blatantly not on their side. We need to educate them as much as we can.

  20. The TRANSPARENCY of the evil side of the FEDS is like living in a BANANA REPUBLIC with a TALIBAN MENTALITY. MARIJUANA PROHIBITION as their beacon of power to spread FEDERALISM and their MORALITY against the wants of the CITIZENS so they can protect BIG PHARMA and other INDUSTRIES and stomp on our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. Now that BIN LADEN is frolicking with all those virgins in the heaven that he believed in, we are still living under the DARK SIDE of MARIJUANA PROHIBITION, a INFERNO OF A LIVING HELL of unjust laws and TOTALITARIAN CONTROL. The battle of CIVILITY and FEDERALISM goes on as the 21ST CENTURY INQUISITORS get their BLANK CHECK on our tax dollars to keep the war on drugs their FANTASY OF REALITY.

  21. We could be past this if Prop. 19 had passed. 2012 might be the last chance for a while. They will be coming for you next CA. I too thought that maybe Obama was waiting until second term, but after this, it looks like I’ll be voting for Ron Paul or Gary Johnson.

  22. Pfft. Of course he changed his mind when he got in office. It’s a political tool for it to be illegal. Arresting people creates jobs and keeps the public in fear.
    On top of that, it allows the CIA and other NWO leaders to funnel money into Mexico and Canada illegally so that they can introduce an American Union when the dollar’s value falls.

  23. If 50 million Americans smoke pot regularly and these 50 million show up to vote in 2012, maybe we can get rid of Obama and vote in Gary Johnson.
    That would be a good start. He did a GREAT job as governor of New Mexico.

  24. Obama and his administration are only shooting themselves in the foot. Sure they are only stifling a potentially monster economic opportunity,but they are enhancing prison growth,and after all that is one of America’s largest industries.We have to start now to end the powerful police state,and attempt to create a more peaceful society.Ron Paul and Gary Johnson seem to believe that people’s right’s are more important than corporations rights,and to me that would be a large step in the right direction. OBAMA MUST GO!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Just a thought, perhaps approaching cannabis for medication may not work best. If we could raise money and approach the issue from a buissness standpoint with campaign contributions (play their game) for Hemp legalization for industrial uses such as alternative energy as the fed dose not discerne one from the other we might be able to sway opinion as gasoline prices continue to rise and create situations where it costs more just to get to work than you make daily.

  26. People have already realized that prohibition is an atrocity. They are either apathetic because they don’t smoke or afraid of the repercussions of standing up to the government.

  27. I have to agree with Mark. Johnson did a great job in New Mexico for eight years when I lived there.
    Gary Johnson will be part of the South Carolina debate on FOX News tonight and he will also be on Shawn Hannity after the debate.
    Gary Johnson believes marijuana should be legal and has said this for years. You can complain about Obama all you want but put your money where your mouth is and help get Gary Johnson elected.

  28. I dont know how long ABC News (on-line) keeps stories for viewing but today there was a story about a Montana father and his two year old son.
    The child had a brain tumor which the doctors removed 10%.
    This kid was practically on his death bed when his father unbeknowning to the doctors dosed him Medical Marijuana Oil.
    Eventually the tumor disappeared surprising the attending doctors.
    If the story is still there it’s worth watching.

  29. i said this 3 months ago, a ron paul/gary johnson ticket, with complete legalization of all cannabis, industrial and medical as their major platform would win by a landslide. embracing the green tech of industrial cannabis for bio-fuel, paper, clothing, food, in the educational process during the campaign would give the american people a real eye opening realization of what has been stolen from them. knowing that medical marijuana is the safest, most non-toxic substance that cures cancer, treats everything inflammatory, muscular, and neurological and can be grown by the individual for pennies should make them realize all the lawyers and politicians have been after is control and the money. that’s why the growers and medical providers voted against it in california. you can either be for complete legalization or keep on whining.

  30. Bring it. Everyone knows the government is fighting a losing battle. It’s just a matter of time before it’s legalized. A war on pot is just immoral. Just ask the 19 year old guy who got raped in prison for smoking it. The truth doesn’t stay hidden forever.

  31. This is your president on drugs. Big Pharma drug$ that is. I’ll never vote for this liar again even if it means that Romney will be elected. What’s the difference? I hope this is what will unite all cannabis users to send a clear and strong message that you don’t screw with the people. Ten million votes + is a pretty strong swing if we hold our ground to vote out this sneaking liar. I’m starting to wonder if he ever inhaled at this point.

  32. nORML YOU JUST DON’T GET IT. The fed doesn’t want normal everyday Americans to make money off of ANY DRUG!!!! They only want their DRUG PROFITEERS to make money off of getting you high. As for you schmucks blaming medical marijuana dispensaries for making money….FUCK YOU! The whole point (as I see it) is to take the profits from people who spend them on guns to terrorize Americans and others, and put it into the hands of otherwise law-abiding citizens!!! If some people are better at it than others, so be it!
    The way I see it is as follows. Obama and co never envisioned the fact that the MMJ people would ever gain enough market share to cause a dent in the profits their friends make in the black-market (where they only bust competitors). As more dispensaries have popped up, the price for weed sold in the black market has had to come down, thus cutting into the profits made by black market dealers (ie The Fed, and it’s competitors).
    It is time for you (NORML) to get off of your asses, and cut the touchy feely relationship you’ve had with Washington! You need to change your name back to National Organization for the REPEAL of Marijuana Laws!!! You are never going to get anywhere with the idea of “reform”! With one little stroke of his pen, Obama has DESTROYED all the progress you claim to have been such a help in creating .The American people as a whole are on the side of getting back the freedom to put what we want to into our bodies as we see fit! Time to start acting like you have our vote of confidence and push for full legalization!!!
    -Oz
    [Editor’s note: NORML not only gets it, it has been getting it done for 40 years! Elected officials are not going to support legalizing cannabis until well over 50% of the US public support such and citizens will not likely vote in binding initiatives if nearly 50% of them still fear cannabis (perceiving it incorrectly as more dangerous than alcohol products). Currently, about 45% of the US public claim in surveys to support legalization. More vexing, well under 1% of cannabis consumers are involved in the slightest with cannabis law reform efforts.
    Unfortunately, much more work to perform before Congress repeals 74 years of Cannabis Prohibition!]

  33. There are going to be a very large voters turnout in the presidential republican primaries because it’s very important to vote out the anti-cannabis wahoos that thrives on prohibition.

  34. There are way to many people whining instead of figuring out how to mount viable activism. Your whining and not voting will do nothing but elect people who will even more draconian in terms of the war on drugs. If you think it can’t get worse your a fool. You may end up electing people that will shut the whole dame thing down. It can get worse. Its time to grow up.

  35. Joel, if you think Republicans are going to legalize cannabis are sadly mistaken. They were also going to be passing all kinds of jobs bills. All they have passed is anti-abortion bills.

  36. It’s not so much to “Consider” [consider only] cannabis a drug [a natural drug] – because – THC is a psycho-active [a harmless psycho-active]. But! – that it is the world’s “LEAST HARMFUL”[if at all] drug/substance scheduled in the “MOST DANGEROUS” drugs pew. You’ve got the right church – but – the wrong pew. That’s like Little Red Ridding Hood sitting in the Wolf’s pew. “Doesn’t make fuckin’ sense does it.” Well! – yes it does. The substance [the whole plant material extraction] has been given to pharmacy. Blink your eyes – and – the next thing you know – you’ll be getting your shit from a government pharmacist, with a physician’s prescription to a schedule III substance – THC [already a legal drug/substance]. In the meantime – government is shutting down – “prohibiting”- cannabis completely, in every way possible – Government Supremacy Clause. “You can have the orange juice – but – you can’t touch the orange – or you shall die.” Ever heard that one before “Forbidden Fruit – touch it and your dead.” BTW – you can only get the orange juice from us.
    The solution and the validity is Scientific Revolution. We want “ALL” the scientific evidence and testimony to be presented to a candid audience. As government has denied research – we should examine all scientific evidence available – and – we shouldn’t let the door hit us in the ass doing it. Call for the truth in cannabis i.e. prove to me that it is dangerous – otherwise shut the fuck up – and – call it what it is – “a legal drug.”

  37. BTW These threats were presented to Californians prior to the elections [Prop 19.]. Knocked all the fence riders of the wall with their voter intimidation.

  38. “Claiming that the feds and Obama treat patients like terrorists is a ridiculous thing to write.”
    Russ, prove me wrong. It is far from ridiculous if one examines the lives MMJ patients have had to lead.

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