I don’t know what Kal Penn, an actor I genuinely like, has been smoking — okay, I do know — but he might want to put down the bong before answering questions from a reporter about Obama’s record on medical marijuana. That record is terrible and a clear betrayal of his campaign promises, but Penn tries to defend it:
“I think that the president’s been pretty consistent with that. He’s not in favor of legalization, we should be open about something like that. But what the president has done is take a really smart look at the Department of Justice and said, given the fact that the federal government has limited resources, we should be allocating them toward violent criminals and not towards nonviolent criminals. We can see that not just in things like marijuana but in things like immigration reform where he’s going after and deporting violent criminals and making sure that if you’re a DREAM Act eligible student that you know that you can apply for your deferred status. Wherever the federal government has an appropriate role, I think the president’s been very consistent in that. That’s something that I think folks should know.”
But this simply isn’t true. Yes, he has shifted resources in immigration enforcement toward those who are caught violating the law, and that’s a good thing. But when it comes to drug enforcement, he’s been pretty much a carbon copy of the Bush administration despite many promises to change those policies. Every civil libertarian group and drug policy reform group has been hammering him for it since he got into office, and rightly so. Even ThinkProgress is showing why he’s wrong on this:
There was a time when Penn’s statement was correct. In 2009, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued what is now commonly referred to as the “Ogden Memo.” In it, Ogden announced that federal prosecutors “should not focus federal resources . . . on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” Thus, if a state permits individuals to grow their own marijuana for personal medical use, DOJ would not prosecute them. The memo also announced that federal officials should not focus on people who provide marijuana to patients in compliance with state law — prosecuting “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.”
Less than two years later, however, DOJ significantly walked back the Ogden Memo. A 2011 directive from new Deputy Attorney General James Cole reiterated that “it is likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or their caregivers,” but it also defined “caregiver” narrowly to exclude “commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana.” In the wake of the Cole Memo, several United States Attorneys offices brought federal law to bear against marijuana dispensaries — even dispensaries in full compliance with state law.
There’s just no way to spin this as anything but a broken promise.