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Obama’s Medical Marijuana Doubletalk

President Obama did an interview with Rolling Stone where he attempted to defend his administration’s continuing crackdown on medical marijuana providers and patients, in clear violation of his repeated promises. And his explanation was blatantly hypocritical:

I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books” . . . .

The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do.

Really, Mr. President? The rule of law is just so damned important, and your duty to enforce the law at all times so sacrosanct, that you can do nothing else in this situation? Then please explain why you have chosen not to prosecute any former Bush officials for torture, in clear violation of both federal law and our treaty obligations? Explain why you have quashed any investigation into illegal wiretapping by the NSA, in clear violation of FISA? Oh yeah, that rule of law thing only applies when it’s politically convenient for you. When it doesn’t, it means nothing at all.

Glenn Greenwald makes the same point:

That’s about as vivid an expression of the President’s agenda, and his sense of justice, and the state of the Rule of Law in America, as one can imagine. The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription.

He also links to this piece at Firedoglake, which points out that the Controlled Substances Act does, in fact, give the president exactly the kind of discretionary authority that he claims he doesn’t have:

Drugs are governed under the Controlled Substance Act, and the important thing is that this law explicitly gives the executive branch the power to unilaterally change the legal status of particular drugs. Obama wouldn’t need to “nullify congressional law,” because he currently has the legal power to change marijuana’s classification.

Marijuana is categorized as schedule I, which means it legally has no accepted medical use. This is why medical marijuana, while legal under some state laws, is illegal under federal law.

However, the law explicitly gives the executive branch the power to change the scheduling of particular drugs without needing Congressional action. Obama can instruct the relevant agencies under him to take an honest look at the research and reschedule marijuana so it qualifies as having legitimate medical uses. The Obama administration could easily and justifiably move marijuana to, say, schedule III, which happens to be the same schedule that synthetic THC is in, making medical marijuana legal under federal law.

There would be nothing unusual, extraordinary or legally suspect about Obama doing this. The executive branch has often moved certain drugs to lower or higher schedules based on new data without Congressional involvement. In fact, multiple sitting governors have petitioned the Obama administration asking him to move marijuana to a lower schedule, so he should be aware of the flexible authority he has.

Obama is not some hapless victim whose actions on this issue are constrained by congressional law. The truth is pretty much the exact opposite. Under current law Obama effectively has the power to unilaterally make medical marijuana legal. Obama is not legally forced to wage a war on medical marijuana; it is something his administration is actively choosing to do.

The reason he doesn’t do so, of course, is because he doesn’t want Republicans to be able to attack him as “soft on drugs.” But he can’t say that, so he lies about it and offers clearly hypocritical excuses instead. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

Comments

  1. says

    Then please explain why you have chosen not to prosecute any former Bush officials for torture, in clear violation of both federal law and our treaty obligations? Explain why you have quashed any investigation into illegal wiretapping by the NSA, in clear violation of FISA?

    Those were different. They weren’t growing pot.

    The reason he doesn’t do so, of course, is because he doesn’t want Republicans to be able to attack him as “soft on drugs.”

    Now look, he has to “reach across the aisle”, giving them virtually all of what they want and, in exchange, they agree to slap his hand away and attack him anyway. Further, he agrees to preemptively give in the next time and they agree to savage him further.
    That’s how democracy works. For democrats.

  2. LightningRose says

    Ed, just where is this so-called “crackdown” taking place? It sure as shit isn’t happening in Colorado.

  3. slc1 says

    Re LightningRose @ #2

    It is my understanding that it is happening in California.

  4. harold says

    My only question is why Obama does this stuff (note – of course, he still has my vote – he is better than Romney on all issues where he is different from Romney; arguing that one should passively let Romney be elected because Obama is the same as Romney on some but not all issues is silly, and unless things change unexpectedly by November, a good performance by Obama is the only thing that will keep Romney out of the White House).

    But anyway, it’s fairly unlikely that Obama is personally against medical marijuana, and cracking down on it doesn’t even poll well. What is the reason?

    1) Tacit understanding that “the first black president” must be extremely centrist* and buttoned down? I suspect this plays a role. One could argue either “they call him a Marxist anyway, so why bother”, or “being a centrist makes the extreme rhetoric look silly”. *Of course, by “centrist” I mean “mildly to moderately right wing instead of batshit crazy right wing”.

    2) Area of overlap with Republicans? It could be heavy lobbying by pharmaceutical companies. While pharmaceutical and/or agribusiness companies are actually potential players in a legal marijuana market, right now nobody has any patents and competition is well-established. Medical marijuana competes directly with some established pharmaceuticals (this statement not intended to imply that marijuana is always better than all other options).

    3) The general tendency of the Democrats to believe print and network TV “pundits” that it’s always 1984, and always will be, and that obsessively avoiding being “liberal” is the only possible way for Democrats to survive (in total contradiction to actual public opinion on universal health care, taxes, middle east wars, medical marijuana, student aid, etc, etc, etc)?

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    NEWS FLASH! Barrack Obama is a backstabbing political whore who will sell out anyone for a vote.

    In other news, liquid water is wet.

  6. harold says

    The reason he doesn’t do so, of course, is because he doesn’t want Republicans to be able to attack him as “soft on drugs.”

    I should note that this is identical to my proposed explanation number “3”, “it’s always 1984 and always will be” syndrome. The public changes, the Republicans change, but the Democrats are still quivering from the trauma of that era.

    Now look, he has to “reach across the aisle”, giving them virtually all of what they want and, in exchange, they agree to slap his hand away and attack him anyway. Further, he agrees to preemptively give in the next time and they agree to savage him further.

    A friend of mine used to scoff at hypocritical “libertarians” who supported and apologized for authoritarian Bush policies with the phrase “anything for a flat tax”.

    My position is bordering on “tolerate a great deal of crap to prevent a right wing ideologue majority supreme court” these days.

  7. harold says

    NEWS FLASH! Barrack Obama is a backstabbing political whore* who will sell out anyone for a vote.

    NEWS FLASH! So it the other guy! So is Ron Paul, too, before you start that, and he won’t be relevant in 2012 anyway.

    So decide which one you want to support. The one that who has Robert Bork as his adviser on legal affairs, or the one who doesn’t. The choice is clear for me.

    *Technically, I strongly object to demeaning honest sex workers with this comparison to politicians.

  8. slc1 says

    Re Harold @ #4

    Tacit understanding that “the first black president” must be extremely centrist* and buttoned down?

    I think that Mr. Harold has hit on something here. However, I think that Obama feels that he has to proceed cautiously because, as the first African descended president, he may feel that he has to set an example that he’s not a scary radical black man. This is much like the approach of former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder who was the first African descended governor of any state since Reconstruction.

  9. Doug Little says

    The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do.

    Extremely hypocritical when you think that the exact same situation is occurring with prescription drugs.

  10. jjgdenisrobert says

    A skeptical blog should be more skeptical about so-called “medical marijuana”. There’s no such thing. Medical Marijuana is just barely more established in terms of actual evidence than “detox” regimes. Most studies are poor or unreplicated, and a lot of the positive data can be chalked up to placebo effects. There’s good evidence about the effectiveness of THC in some cases, but that’s a refined product with clear dosage. That’s certainly not true of your average pot plant. That doesn’t argue for medical marijuana use, but rather for medical THC use.

    I’m personally in favour of complete legalization, because the evidence of harm is as flimsy as the evidence of benefits. But let’s not be as woo-y as the woo-meisters because we’d like to be able to smoke pot without the feds breathing down our necks.

  11. Doug Little says

    A skeptical blog should be more skeptical about so-called “medical marijuana”

    That’s not what this post is about. Another time another place.

  12. gshelley says

    “I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana ”
    Did I miss something here? Who exactly is Obama pretending said the he was going to do that

  13. subbie says

    In addition to the previous points made, the excuse that “I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books’ ” is complete and utter horseshit. A prosecuting authority always has complete discretion how to enforce laws.

  14. harold says

    A skeptical blog should be more skeptical about so-called “medical marijuana”. There’s no such thing. Medical Marijuana is just barely more established in terms of actual evidence than “detox” regimes. Most studies are poor or unreplicated, and a lot of the positive data can be chalked up to placebo effects. There’s good evidence about the effectiveness of THC in some cases, but that’s a refined product with clear dosage.

    I partly agree with you, but not entirely. (For full disclosure I am a board certified pathologist, not currently practicing, and as a pathologist I would virtually never write prescriptions anyway.)

    I also support total legalization, but that is actually a separate issue.

    Skeptics must beware of excessive dismissal of decent anecdotal or correlation evidence, as well as of over-promotion of such evidence, however. The phrase “correlation does not imply causation” was originally associated with cigarette smoking/disease denial.

    Credible anecdotes are often the inspiration subsequent more definitive studies.

    (There are even historical cases in which there was no need of controlled studies. I don’t suggest that this is the case here but mention this to illustrate my point. When penicillin was first developed, there was no controlled study in which some patients with then-common life-threatening bacterial infections were given placebo. It was too obvious that antibiotics massively reduced death and permanent disability rate. A rigorous controlled study would literally have been unethical. On a more trivial note, the fact that aspirin relieves some types of headaches was well known and not doubted long before controlled studies of its effects.)

    A controlled study of medical marijuana is not a terribly easy thing to do in the current environment.

    Anecdotally, there is a high rate of claims that smoked marijuana provides optimal symptom relief for patients with a variety of conditions. The explanation that these patients simply want to “get high” (which I think should be their right) is not all that convincing, because 1) the same patient populations do not have strong tendency to abuse other intoxicating substances and 2) most of these patients took up marijuana only after becoming ill, even though it, and other recreational drugs, are widely available. Note that while frustrated patients are understandably but tragically well known to turn to fraudulent or deluded “quacks” and their “remedies”, here we are talking about patient self-report, not of what they hope will “heal” them, but of what makes them feel better. The patients mainly know that the marijuana is for symptoms.

    The explanation that the patients are right and that smoked marijuana has medical benefits remains plausible. It is plausible enough, in fact, that I would need to see fairly strong evidence to the contrary before entirely ruling it out.

    Better studies are indicated, but there is a body of anecdotal evidence that can’t be entirely dismissed.

  15. harold says

    Did I miss something here? Who exactly is Obama pretending said the he was going to do that

    You missed something, badly.

    The entire point of the article.

    The point is not that Obama campaigned on legalizing any form of marijuana, but rather, that he claims to be unable to prevent crackdown on a harmless activity due to powerlessness in the face of the law, yet simultaneously demonstrates the power to overlook the law when it comes to torture, war crimes, and surveillance.

    I will be voting for Obama and Romney would be at least as bad, almost certainly far worse, on these issues, but that is no reason to sugar coat the truth about Obama.

  16. Pinky says

    The Obama administration could easily and justifiably move marijuana to, say, schedule III, which happens to be the same schedule that synthetic THC is in, making medical marijuana legal under federal law.

    I live in Washington State where (medical) marijuana is said to be legal. About eight years ago I was prescribed synthetic THC (Marinol [Dronabinol].) I used a 5 milligram capsule once or twice a week because morphine, even high doses, does not tamp down all the pain¹.

    In the roughly two years I was prescribed the drug I was more relaxed and had fewer mental health problems; you see intense, continuous pain causes a cycle of pain-anxiety-sleeplessness; the wheel keeps spinning with the spiral always downward².

    President Obama’s actions, enforced by the tunnel vision of the Drug Enforcement Agency, have frightened palliative physicians from proscribing even the schedule III drug of Marinol.

    (¹ People who use drugs for pain do not get ‘high’ and even if they did experience some sense of pleasure, so fucking what. Is that the entirety of the drive to keep drugs illegal?

    Is our Christian dominated society so afraid of offending their deity that it excuses excessive amounts of people imprisoned, the slaughter of innocents because black market drugs are so lucrative it warrants killing and pain relief to the suffering?

    (² Please have the good grace to not put words in my mouth I didn’t say (write). Do not try to extrapolate what my present mental condition is today; it is beneath you gentle reader and it insults me. [inoculation])

  17. says

    He’s done exactly the same thing on immigration. His administration has rolled out the misnamed “Secure Communities” program nationwide and ramped up ICE apprehensions – thus tearing more families apart and ruining more lives – and is now deporting 400,000 people a year. The excuse, with immigration as with marijuana, is that he’s just enforcing the laws laid down by Congress and doesn’t have a choice. But it’s bullshit. He doesn’t have to adopt a hardline enforcement policy; he’s chosen to do that, by administrative fiat.

    And the sad thing is that I still have to support him, because the alternative is Mitt Romney, who is best buddies with arch-racist scumbag Kris Kobach.

  18. says

    “My only question is why Obama does this stuff (note – of course, he still has my vote…”

    That pretty much sums up the situation. Obama knows that he’s not going to lose many votes by doing this kind of thing. Or by refusing to prosecute torturers or by granting amnesty to the eavesdroppers.

    If more people demanded more of the President, then he would be less likely to piss all over the demands of liberals. But in an atmosphere where so many Democrats continue to be shell-shocked by memories of Bush/Cheney, too many Democrats are willing to let Obama do whatever he wants to to “act tough.”

  19. harold says

    There’s always at least one –

    That pretty much sums up the situation. Obama knows that he’s not going to lose many votes by doing this kind of thing. Or by refusing to prosecute torturers or by granting amnesty to the eavesdroppers.

    If more people demanded more of the President, then he would be less likely to piss all over the demands of liberals.

    1. A “demand” is made by someone who has some kind of strong negotiating power.

    2. You missed the point of my question. It is perfectly true that I will support Obama in an effort to prevent Romney from taking office, and would probably be logically obliged to do so even if Obama were somewhat worse, due to The Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court. The last Republican nominations were Roberts and Alito, Obama nominated Kagan and Sotomayor, and Romney has Robert Bork Robert Bork Robert Bork Robert Bork on board as an adviser.

    However, my question was not “why is Obama in a position to get away with it”, which is obvious, but rather, why, on this issue, does he choose this position. I gave my thoughts on that above.

    The blame for this situation belongs to the radical right wing movement that has taken over the Republican Party, and for people who continue to vote for them, not with “liberals”.

    But in an atmosphere where so many Democrats continue to be shell-shocked by memories of Bush/Cheney,

    What I am shell-shocked by is my projections of what a Romney administration would do, in particular, what kind of Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court Supreme Court nominations would result.

    Clearly, we have a very different level of concern here. You are a passive supporter the Citizens United decision http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_united. You are a passive supporter of adding more members to the court who would wipe their ass with the constitution and argue that teaching religious dogma as science at taxpayer expense is legal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Aguillard#Dissent

    I don’t mean this as an insult, you just have different priorities. In pursuit of a president who is more ideal on issues like marijuana, you would find the interim situation of another right wing administration, this time with Robert Bork on board as an adviser, virtually certain to name the successor of Justice Ginsburg, acceptable. I don’t think that is acceptable.

    There is exactly one way to efficiently try to prevent this outcome, and that is to, for the time being, support the only realistic and superior alternative to Romney, Obama. That is the only efficient way to block Romney from gaining power. That is my current prioritized political opinion. You don’t have to agree. It’s a somewhat free country.

    too many Democrats are willing to let Obama do whatever he wants to to “act tough.”

    I’m very impressed that you have the personal power to make “demands” and “let” the POTUS do things. That doesn’t seem to be my situation. The two major party candidates are Obama and Romney, Romney would be an unthinkable disaster, and he is too close for comfort.

    You do your thing, vote for Ron Paul or Nader or whatever (unless of course you’re one of the many closet right wing Republicans who pose as “dissatisfied liberals” every election season), but I’ll stick with Obama for now, warts and all.

  20. uncephalized says

    I was going to reply to rickdesper #18, but harold said it well. There is no way to demand anything from the President short of threats of revolution. And there is no way to punish any particular action or policy if there is no better candidate to vote for. Not to mention that the idea of voting at all is a ludicrous waste of time when you are one vote in a sea of 100 million plus. But that’s another issue entirely.

  21. gshelley says

    Did I miss something here? Who exactly is Obama pretending said the he was going to do that

    You missed something, badly.

    The entire point of the article.

    The point is not that Obama campaigned on legalizing any form of marijuana, but rather, that he claims to be unable to prevent crackdown on a harmless activity due to powerlessness in the face of the law, yet simultaneously demonstrates the power to overlook the law when it comes to torture, war crimes, and surveillance.

    Not at all
    If we look at what Obama said
    “I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana”
    How is that in any way relevant to his actions? How is it related to what he is being criticized for?
    If he wants to claim he is powerless to even stop going after very small scale production or supply, he can just say that. There is no need to insert what is at best a non sequitor, and at worse a lie about why he being criticised.

  22. Chris from Europe says

    @gshelley
    We could also look at the stuff Ed is actually referring to. He also said that he has to enforce the law. He always does that as an excuse, but has shown to able to use discretion when he wants to. So it’s more than clear that he doesn’t want to. It might be that it’s just because of possible swing votes, not personal conviction, but that doesn’t change the outcome.

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