President Obama sent shockwaves across the country with his blunt comments to The New Yorker about marijuana legalization.
In the lengthy piece, author David Remnick and President Obama share this exchange:
“As has been well documented, I [Obama] smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
Is it less dangerous? [Remnick] asked.
Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.” What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
Never one to take a definite position and stick to it, President Obama couched his statements with a typical “slippery slope” straw man argument against marijuana legalization.
“I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that? If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”
Though many across the political spectrum took umbrage with his statements that marijuana is safer than alcohol, which the facts easily bear out, RAMP is more concerned with a president that makes very vocal statements, but seems to act out different policy through his bureaucracies.
Some past examples:
President Obama in 2007 on his first campaign trail for the presidency stated, “My attitude is if the science and the doctors suggest that the best palliative care and the way to relieve pain and suffering is medical marijuana then that’s something I’m open to because there’s no difference between that and morphine when it comes to just giving people relief from pain. But I want to do it under strict guidelines. I want it prescribed in the same way that other painkillers or palliative drugs are prescribed.” — November 24, 2007 town hall meeting in Iowa
Today, he makes the “science” required to prove marijuana’s medical use fit an FDA framework, to only DEA-licensed researchers, acquiring their research-grade marijuana from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, an organization within the Department of Health and Human Sciences, with the congressionally mandated mission to bring “the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction.” In Sanjay Gupta’s documentary of his personal change of opinion regarding medical marijuana, he notes that of the entirety of NIDA’s research allowances to study cannabis, only 6% of the studies are to identify medical benefits of marijuana. The rest are to study the harm posed by cannabis. How is that for stacking the deck?
Another example of double-talk: President Obama on the campaign trail repeatedly stated he would not prioritize Department of Justice resources to sidestep state laws on regulated medical marijuana sales.
Example 1: “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good use of our resources.” — August 21, 2007, event in Nashua, New Hampshire
Example 2: “I don’t think that should be a top priority of us, raiding people who are using…medical marijuana. With all the things we’ve got to worry about, and our Justice Department should be doing, that probably shouldn’t be a high priority.” — June 2, 2007, town hall meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire
Example 3: “You know, it’s really not a good use of Justice Department resources.” — regarding federal raids of medical marijuana cultivators, August 13, 2007, town hall meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire
Example 4: “The Justice Department going after sick individuals using [marijuana] as a palliative instead of going after serious criminals makes no sense.” — July 21, 2007, town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire
(Source: The Gazette)
Not only that, but after the election, Obama’s spokespeople continued to make similar statements about respect for state laws in the prioritizing of Justice Department resources.
Example 5: To Stephen Dinan and Ben Conery of the Washington Times in February of 2009, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro stated, “The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind.” Article title, “DEA pot raids go on; Obama opposes.”
Example 6: In March of 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters, “The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law…Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.”
Example 7: The infamous Ogden memo of October 2009 in which Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden wrote to U.S. Attorneys in states with medical marijuana regulatory systems to, “focus federal resources…on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”
Thinking they had finally been given some clarity, marijuana businesses breathed a very short sigh of relief.
Let’s just look at the numbers:
With data compiled by Americans for Safe Access, Obama’s four and a half years have generated 270 DEA raids on medical cannabis of the total 528 raids which took place over the last 17 years! (This as of June 2013 and not including the most recent raids in the Denver area.)
President Obama has spent nearly $300 million on enforcing the CSA in legal medical cannabis states — $100 million more than President Bush in his total eight years.
According to Americans for Safe Access, in the months between Obama’s inauguration and the Ogden memo, an average 5 raids per month took place. In the months following the Ogden memo, an average of nearly 6 raids per month took place. Under President Bush, the average was 2.
We appreciate President Obama’s concern that there is an unfair racial aspect to marijuana arrests—as the ACLU bore out in their report The War on Marijuana in Black and White. But is he willing to spend the political capital to change anything?
We predict he’ll likely, as he has before, push the debate onto Congress’s shoulders while remaining ambiguous—sound familiar?
Another example of this is President Obama’s statement to Rolling Stone in April 2012 that he “can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.”" Obama conveniently avoids the question of rescheduling marijuana down from a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which the Attorney General has the explicit authority to do (21CFR13.811(a)). Drugs within the Schedule I category are identified as having, “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” The 20 states (and Washington D.C.) that have medical marijuana programs might disagree. In fact, in 2012, lawmakers in 5 states that had passed medical marijuana legislation told the federal government to respect their state regulatory systems in reaction to Obama’s rash of SWAT-style raids.
Though we appreciate any candidness on the issue of marijuana legalization, and hope for the best outcomes, we can’t help but be skeptical.
RAMP advises Republicans to get in front of this issue rather than allow waffling Democrats make themselves out to be the drug reform champions they are not. As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently said in his State of the State Address, “We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse.” Though RAMP disagrees that compulsory treatment (by more big government programs) is the answer, we welcome a more open and honest debate.