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Reactions to Obama administration memo on medical marijuana

Well, the Monday release of the medical marijuana non-interference guidelines memo resulted in some pretty good national coverage. It’s been big news all over the media and the internet.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the more interesting ones…

bullet image Marijuana And State Budgets: Now What? — US News and World Report Money uses the memo and the recent Gallup poll to speculate on when states will step up and eye the potential tax revenue.

bullet image U.S. Won’t Prosecute in States That Allow Medical Marijuana, in the New York Times, contained this rather ironic reaction to the news.

But one prominent conservative, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, criticized the Justice Department’s position, saying it would weaken drug enforcement.

“By directing federal law enforcement officers to ignore federal drug laws, the administration is tacitly condoning the use of marijuana in the United States,” said Mr. Smith, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “If we want to win the war on drugs, federal prosecutors have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute all medical marijuana dispensaries and not just those that are merely fronts for illegal marijuana distribution.”

Two notes: Win the war on drugs? Right. And did you notice how he essentially stated that we need to prosecute legal dispensaries (by comparing them to illegal ones)?

bullet image Holder’s Baby Step On Medical Marijuana. Chris Weigant isn’t impressed.

What this all means is that today’s news, while good for the medical marijuana movement, is simply not good enough, because it changes no underlying federal law. Meaning that, if President Obama — and Attorney General Holder, and the local Drug Enforcement Agency, and the local federal prosecutor — all deem a particular medical marijuana dispensary acceptable, then it won’t be raided. But if anyone in that chain of command decides you’re outside the state law in any way, then you cannot even mention the words “medical marijuana” in your court case after they arrest you. You will simply be prosecuted as a “dealer” or “trafficker” and will be gagged so you cannot explain who you were really selling marijuana to.

This is still unacceptable. The citizens of fourteen states have determined that medical marijuana should be allowable. At the very least, you should be able to present this defense to a jury in a federal courtroom. Because without this change, all it would take is one D.E.A. office or one federal attorney to take a dislike to your operation, and you won’t even be allowed to adequately defend yourself in court. And even if everyone in that chain of authority behaves themselves for the next four (or eight) years, Obama won’t always be president. Meaning that all it would take is another memo by another attorney general, and the policy will go right back to where it was previously.

bullet image Gateway Drug Policy: Will Obama’s new medical marijuana directive actually change anything? by Christopher Beam at Slate

Where the new federal guidelines could have an effect is on states currently considering medical marijuana laws. Right now, 13 states allow some degree of medical marijuana consumption. (There are 14 if you count Maryland, which reduces the penalty if the marijuana you’re caught using is for medical purposes.) Another dozen or so have bills moving through their legislature. In many cases, lawmakers have been skittish about OKing dispensaries for fear that the Drug Enforcement Administration would come and shut them down. Now that’s no longer a concern. […]

Most states take their cues from the federal government on drug policy. The practice traces back to passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which aimed to create a uniform set of drug regulations across the country. During the drug war in the 1980s and ’90s, the federal government started awarding grants to help states with law enforcement in exchange for aligning their drug policies with federal guidelines. So when the federal government signals its preference not to pursue medical marijuana users, states may take the cue.

bullet image A New Course on Medical Marijuana?, also in the New York Times, features reactions to the news from five individuals (two of which are LEAP members!)

Former ONDCP associate director Tom Riley thinks the memo is no big deal and changes nothing.

Joseph D. McNamara, James E. Gierach, and Richard N. Van Wickler generally see it as a somewhat positive step forward but are looking for more.

Former FDA official Henry I. Miller is unsurprised, but falls back on the annoying old whine that we don’t know enough about marijuana, that we need to study it for a couple more centuries and turn it into pharmaceuticals that can profit big pharma before we allow any sick people to feel better.

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20 comments to Reactions to Obama administration memo on medical marijuana

  • Chris

    Would you believe I was worried about the lack of good news this month? That all changed yesterday.

  • iDub

    as mentioned before… this memo changes nothing and we must continue to educate the public. Great to see that the support for mj is growing! 🙂

  • DdC

    Obama Policy Shift On Marijuana Turns Heads
    US CA: Simerman, John Contra Costa Times 19 Oct 2009

    The Memo
    by Jeremiah Vandermeer – Monday, October 19 2009
    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. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.

    Beware the Jack-Booted Feet
    Bermuda-Shorts Clad Thighs of Armored Drug Cops

    LA’s top prosecutor vows to target pot shops

    Judge: LA ban on new medical marijuana dispensaries was illegal
    A judge ruled Monday that the city of Los Angeles’ ban on new medical marijuana dispensaries was illegal, a decision cheered by vendors but one that city and county officials said would not stop their push to close down shady operators.

  • Dreau Preau

    All this memo shows is that the federal govt. is willing to respect the wishes of the states, and that it has seen reason regarding the role of federal law enforcement therein. Marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, and that still doesn’t make any sense.

  • DdC

    Justice Won’t Go After Medical-Marijuana

    “The announcement sparked a range of reactions. Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, gave little weight to the announcement, saying that the policy has essentially been in place since early this year. An opponent of medical-marijuana laws, she said the policy may provide “free rein” to prosecutors previously unsure of whether those who used medical-marijuana laws as a smokescreen for trafficking should be prosecuted, which she would support

    “We think they should be even more aggressive, and we could have said the same thing about the previous Administration too. We think the [marijuana] dispensaries should be shut down — all of them should be shut down, and they should be shut down yesterday,”she told TIME.

    Pot Talk is NORML in San Francisco

    Want to Legalize Pot? Sign Here, Please

    Schwarzenegger: High Time for Marijuana Debate

    Watch a video about a medical-marijuana home-delivery service.

  • DdC

    No Dreau it makes no sense,
    but it does make a whole bunch of fascist dollars keeping Schedule#1.

  • claygooding

    Although it actually changes nothing from the time it was announced in Feb,it is now on paper instead of a vague reference in a news conference. Amazing that it took all the attorney’s in the JD 8 months to write a three page memo. That is the delay bought by big pharm.
    Now who is going too ask how we can have a medical policy on a schedule 1 drug with no medical applications?
    When will Barney Frank and Ron Paul push their medical marijuana bill forward.
    I suspect that when states start legalizing marijuana we will really hear the DEA and ONDCP scream because it will
    mean a large reduction in their budget and not too have marijuana users too bust so safely.

  • Shaleen

    actually THREE of them are LEAP speakers:)

  • aussidawg

    In response to Rep. Lamar Smith’s comment on “winning the war on drugs”:

    Mr. Smith, your job as representative is to represent the people of your district. I seriously doubt they support the drug war, as is currently being waged against medical marijuana. I live in East Texas, which is one of the most conservative areas of the state. An online poll of local television station KVUE questioned local viewers not only on the issue of medical marijuana, but the issue of whether or not marijuana should be legal, period. The respondants were 49% in favor of outright legalization with only 30% favorable to current law. Your district is located in the most liberal city of the state, not to mention the entire nation. Your job is not to legislate your personal feeling toward drug policy, but to reflect that of your constituents. Obviously, you are not doing the job you were elected to do, and should therefore be replaced during the next election cycle by someone who will do as they are expected to do.

  • James

    Absolutely right it changes nothing. People you need to wake up politicians can only take your freedom from you if you allow them. Stop supporting statist nonsense governments,constitutions, and politicians can not give you rights. In fact they exist to do the exact opposite to constrain and constrict your freedom. Look at any countries legislation in any time and any place and you will see that inevitably the charter of legislation is to restrict and confine freedom. Legislation and law are NOT the same. Read Spooner, Rothbard (Murray N), and Albert Jay Nock. Vices are not crimes and it is absurd and criminal to make them so through legislation.

  • paul

    The drug warriors were not pleased with the memo, and the publicity was loud so no prosecutor can say they didn’t get it. It is just a little baby step, but I think it is safe to call this a minor victory.

    Of course we can expect the usual resistance, and some prosecutors will go on doing whatever they want. But it’s a start.

    By the way, someone mentioned that the DEA’s budget may get reduced. I don’t think the Obama admin is in cutting mode at all right now, but if they finally come to their senses and start cutting, I hope they start with the DEA. Many other 3 letter agencies deserve cuts, but the DEA is special.

    If I were president, I would have cut the DEA 100% right after I finished the oath of office. “…do solemnly swear to uphold the constitution of the United States. I would like to thank all my supporters for making this great day possible. Now, let’s get to work. First, everyone working at the DEA is fired, no exceptions. Clear out your desk and be gone before 5:00 p.m. tomorrow. Security is going to chain the doors shut, and anyone still on the premises after 5:00 p.m. will be arrested for trespassing. Now if you work for the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Treasury and especially the IRS, you are probably fired. I have a list here…”

  • R.O.E.

    LOL. These dopes still think they can win a war on something they have no controll over…..Good lord!

  • claygooding

    Please explain how we have a “medical” marijuana policy on a drug that has no medicinal applications.All the terms used to describe m/m patients,clinics,and treatments are in medical terms and treating health problems,just like medicine. And the federal government has recognized that marijuana is a medicine for treatment of nausea and glaucoma. And doctors in the states where they are allowed are using it as treatments for numerous health problems,too numerous too list here. But that is what the 30 million dollars from the pharmaceutical industry given too our elected legislators want,delay,delay,delay.
    That is the 30 million they paid in the 2008 election funds,split equally between dems and reps,and I’d be willing to bet that the 2010 “donations’ will top the charts
    because you know it cost them a ton of money to delay the Justice Dept for 8 months too write a 3 page memo. Congress has been writing a health reform bill for the whole nation,and have done it in half the time.
    The clock is ticking,now lets see how long it takes them to even discuss rescheduling marijuana.
    They may have gag rules in court,and I still don’t understand how that came about,as far as I know if a person takes the stand in his own defense he has a right to any defense he deems important enough to use,and freedom of speech is just as much your right in court as it is anywhere
    else in the US,and should be more so when you are arguing for your freedom. They would damn sure have too gag me.

    http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=H04

    Above is link to election fund donations. While there,check your legislators and see if yours recieved donations from big pharm and you will know for sure if you need too replace them. Barney Frank and Ron Paul recieve $0 from them,while the two senators from my state receive hundred of thousands from big pharm,and both state they will not support medical marijuana or rescheduling it. We are working on replacing them both.

  • paul

    I find it difficult to believe the Big Pharma really cares about medical MJ. Why should they? Where’s the percentage?

    The 30 million in donations to both parties has a pleasing cynicism to it, but all large industries must pay so they will be left alone, and so that they have a voice in matters that concern them.

    I’ve never understood why the public hates the pharmaceutical companies so much. Those companies are dong the risky and expensive research that keeps you and your loved ones in much better health than was possible in your grandparent’s time.

    Their involvement in politics is unfortunate. Mostly, they seem to spend their lobbying dollars on making FDA rules harder for small companies to follow, and on preventing the re-importation of drugs into America, which would screw up the pricing arrangements they make with countries around the world. Please don’t get me wrong–those are bad things, but it is the vast federal government that is at the root of the problem more than the pharma companies.

  • Nick Zentor

    I find it difficult to believe the Big Pharma really cares about medical MJ. Why should they? Where’s the percentage?

    @Paul: Medical marijuana represents a major competitor to Big Pharma, a factor which they lack control over. It threatens to take profits away from them. Fascist Capitalists always hate anyone or anything that threatens to steal their profits.

    The fact that they place their profits over the people’s right to choose their own lifestyles, medicines, and vices, is enough of a reason to despise them.

  • Hey Pete! Just wanted to let you know that Ethan Nadelmann, Tom Riley, and Gil Kerlikowski were on Diane Rehm this morning talking about the DOJ guidelines (archived here: http://wamu.org/programs/dr/09/10/21.php#28771). Although federal policy has clearly shifted since Obama took office, the real story is how much farther they need to go!

  • DdC

    I find it difficult to believe the Big Pharma really cares about medical MJ. Why should they? Where’s the percentage?

    Paul, at best thats naive…
    and to just blurt out a baseless opinion,
    with no facts or even logic, is drug worrierish.
    Same asinine idiots spewing Ganja smoke does harm
    with no victims in 5000 years.
    No Medical Value $$$$…
    Homegrown in the Herb Garden…

    Plus the Crude Oil competition.
    The meat and dairy competition.
    The tree lumber and paper competition.
    The cotton competition.
    The 90 million pounds of poison not used on Hemp.
    Prisons, copshops, rehabs and pisstaster profits.
    etc etc. You think thery’re just nice guys?

    The Elkhorn Manifesto

    Medical Marijuana Is An Insult To Our Intelligence
    By Charles Lane October 20, 2009

    Not Everyone Is High On Medical MarijuanaNPR: Audio

    Reaction To New Medical Marijuana Policy
    VPR: October 20, 2009 Washington, DC

    Supporters of legalized marijuana use are praising a Justice Department memo that tells federal prosecutors not to go after people who are using or distributing marijuana in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

    But Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas says it’s the wrong move — and that marijuana is the “cash cow for most drug trafficking organizations.”

    The new guidelines make clear that federal agents will go after those whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted, and those using the law as a cover for other crimes.

    The Bush administration had insisted it would continue to enforce anti-pot laws, regardless of state codes. Vermont and Maine are among the 14 states with laws that allow the use of medical marijuana in some circumstances.

  • DdC

    I think we should boycott or protest in front of drug stores to show what its like when they make it difficult to get medications. Not stopping them, but awareness in what RxGanja patients have had to go through. The daily terrorism, stigma, threats of losing their homes or jobs or kids. All part of the equation for most of the country. But to live in a state with a law on the books, and still have to put up with political sabotage and a constant fear mongering DA. Thats UnAmerican. The corporations lobbyists supporting this competition removal are traitors, all for profit on the misery of our citizens.

    One in 25 Globally Using Cannabis – Study

  • aussidawg is totally correct and that man is near treason by representing an agenda and not the people