The medical marijuana memo isn't worth the paper it's printed on

The Obama administration threw a bone to the lunatic, fringe left a few days ago. The memo to federal prosecutors in medical marijuana states has garnered hearty applause from Greenwald and the Marijuana Policy Project.

When elected, Obama said that federal raids on state-law legal marijuana cultivation and distribution would end. The didn’t, not by a long shot, and the reasoning was that the feds would continue to prosecute people who violated state and federal laws. That boils down to everyone, no matter their standing under state law. The latest memo simply tells prosecutors that it’s not a good use of their time to bring charges against those abiding by their State’s law.

So hold your applause. This memo amounts to nothing, which is precisely what’s it’s meant to amount to while simultaneously making Obama look like a good guy.

The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime and provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels. One timely example underscores the importance of our efforts to prosecute significant marijuana traffickers: marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.

Note the Department’s commitment, “in all States”. I have to wonder what credentials Congress possess that enables it to determine how dangerous any drug is, as if that august body was known for its deep, careful thinkers and scientists. Furthermore, according to everything i’ve ever read, drug scheduling is under the purview of several departments that are all within the executive branch. That’s how Congress established the system when it determined which drugs were dangerous and which drugs weren’t. So the President could order the DEA, HHS and the FDA to review the scheduling of a drug and force Congress to be along for the ride.

Yes, marijuana trafficking is the single largest source of revenue for Mexican drug cartels. That’s because it’s illegal. I thought supply and demand was like the American catechism. Restricting supply only pushes prices, and hence profits, up. This idea that further restricting supply will somehow diminish cartel profits flies in the face of everything Ronald Reagan and common sense taught me…not that the two necessarily intersect.

As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities [catching druggies] 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. …prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Department’s core enforcement priorities.

So according to the Obama administration, if you’ve got cancer or aids and your supplier is giving you marijuana for free that’s ok. But just because someone is in full compliance with his State’s law is no protection. In other words, “Hey, don’t make us look like assholes by arresting someone who’s got six months to live.”

The administration produces a list of characteristics that should suggest prosecution. Some of them make sense, but there’s always a catch. “Evidence of money laundering activity” makes the list. As any monetary gain from the sale of marijuana is criminal under federal law, just about any use of marijuana proceeds could be considered money laundering. And if you don’t think that the DEA won’t see that argument, you’re high.

This guidance regarding resource allocation does not “legalize” marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law, nor is it intended to create any privileges, benefits, or rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any individual, party or witness in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter. Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law or the absence of one or all of the above factors create a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

Get the picture?

Nor does this guidance preclude investigation or prosecution, even when there is clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law, in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests.

It should be clear by now that there’s nothing in this memo worthy of applauding. Sure it’s a step in the right direction, but that only deserves the response, “It’s about damned time.”

The administration has the power to start the ball rolling on significant drug reform. Rescheduling would end the entire “debate”. Judging by election in results in states where a marijuana referendum was on the ballot in 2008, dope is a lot more popular than hope. There’s no political risk to Obama at the voter level. The voters who would be angered by the move won’t be voting Democratic before the second coming in any case. There are a at least few million who would probably vote for the politician who reforms marijuana laws regardless of anything else the politician does. The youth vote would basically deify such a politician.

Big time donors like the pharmaceutical industry wouldn’t like it, which might indicate who’s side the President is on, but see above and ask yourself if it would even matter for the one more election he can win.

But there almost certainly won’t be any movement on a relatively simple problem with a pretty straight-forward solution that would have positive benefits in other areas of concern like health care and the economy. With the ability to legally cultivate marijuana there are probably a lot of unemployed American facing foreclosure who might attempt an entrepreneurial response to the death of the American Dream. Places like Southeastern Kentucky would have a valuable cash crop, and they probably wouldn’t need so much tax-funded aid. Hell, folks in those places might even start thinking that Obama ain’t so bad after all.

Never mind the taxation question. Enforcing taxation will be even more difficult than enforcing criminalization. Let the money flow through the real economy and accept that it will trickle up. Smart states will establish retail distribution licensing similar to the existing structure for alcohol. It will raise local and state revenues; keep control over the retail sector; and be subject to sales tax. We’ll just have to take our chances on person-to-person transactions being claimed as miscellaneous income. Regardless, that money will be spent and serve the greater economy.

Plenty of savings can be found by not wasting tax dollars on prosecution and incarceration of marijuana cases. And i’ll bet that law enforcement will still have plenty to do.

The answer is simple and frankly, the question is stupid. So you’ll have to forgive me if i hold my applause until the end…though i might not be able to hold them if some intrepid journalist asks the President if he thinks it would have been better for the nation if he’d been convicted of his youthful indiscretions and never gotten to be President. Clearly you can smoke pot and grow up to be President, you just can’t get caught doing it.

3 replies »

  1. It is a public declaration of intent to change the law. A public feeling out of the public to a change it legal stance. The smoother the acceptance the sooner laws will change, initial indications are change is very close. Once the number of states with medical marijuana laws gets to fifty percent you can bet that federal law will change. So get on it.

  2. Really, Robert, did you read the memo? It’s not a public declaration of intent to change the law. It says that the law stands just as it always has with a few maybe’s thrown in. Nothing the President has said indicates any intent to change the law. When questioned about the law he laughs and makes fun of the questioners. Don’t need to get on it, i live in a medical marijuana state already.

    You let me know when Obama’s intentions (which only you seem to know) match up with his actions.

  3. Im just happy that there is any minutely productive converstaion regarding marijuana. If only our flacid gov’t would legalize this not just harmless, but helpful substance. Alas, it would too greatly effect big pharma, logging and paper corps. I can only hope.