June 14, 2012

Why The Federal Crackdown On Medical Marijuana?

June 14, 2012
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Will The Federal Crackdown On Medical Marijuana Ever End?

By John Payne

I don’t know how I missed this poll from mid-May, but it definitively shows that the American people think the federal government should respect medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them.

These results aren’t particularly surprising, but they do belie the most common explanation for the continued federal raids on medical marijuana establishments. The standard narrative is that Obama continues to sign off on these raids because it’s politically advantageous for him to do so, but that’s hard to believe if only 15 percent of voters support those actions. Furthermore, the respondents who favor prosecuting medical marijuana providers are more likely to be over 65 years of age and identify as Republican, making it extremely unlikely that Obama could win their votes no matter how many medical marijuana clinics he shuts down.


I think the real explanation is perhaps even less flattering to the Obama administration than the idea that the president is sacrificing sick people for political gain. The president simply does not have control over the U.S. attorneys and DEA agents who enforce the laws against medical marijuana. Obama can say that he doesn’t want federal resources going to prosecute medical marijuana providers who are in compliance with state laws. He can even mean it. Federal prosecutors don’t have to listen to him, however.

Obama could, of course, fire any U.S. attorney who ordered a medical marijuana raid, but doing so would require him to expend a great deal of political capital on this issue – more political capital than he is willing to expend, apparently. Instead, President Obama has opted to go through any number of lingual contortions to convince voters that he has, in fact, lived up to his campaign promise to stop medical marijuana raids, as seen in his interview with Rolling Stone. It’s not convincing, but it still sounds better than admitting he has next to no control over his own Justice Department.

So if not even the president can stop the medical marijuana raids, how can we ever put an end to them? We have to show the U.S. attorneys that signing off on these raids is dangerous to their careers. Most of them harbor political aspirations, and if they realize that persecuting sick people and the people who provide their medicine is not the route to higher office, they will stop. For instance, Dwight Holton’s defeat in the race for Oregon Attorney General could prove to be a very effective deterrent for U.S. attorneys who want to crackdown on medical marijuana going forward. The federal bureaucracy is too large for even the president to control, so in order to keep those bureaucrats from violating the will of the people, we have to make sure that they know we are watching what they do and will remember it if and when they run for elected office.


John is the campaign director for Show-Me Cannabis Regulation in Missouri and a member of the National Cannabis Coalition‘s board of directors. He first became involved in cannabis law reform when he joined the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy chapter at Washington University in Saint Louis in 2001. After graduating from college, John taught high school social studies before embarking on a career as a writer. He worked for the Show-Me Institute, a think tank that advocates free market policies for the state of Missouri from 2009 to 2011, when he joined Show-Me Cannabis Regulation. His articles have appeared in Young American Revolution, The American Conservative, and Reason Magazine, as well as newspapers across Missouri.



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