Pot legalization advocates praise hands-off approach of...Bush?

The federal government announced this week it’s targeting California’s biggest medical marijuana dispensary— Harborside Health Center in Oakland— for closure and asset seizure. In one of the oddest cases of the Miss-Me-Yet phenomenon, the deputy director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) had this to say about it:

Many of California’s most prominent and well-respected medical cannabis dispensaries and related facilities — including Oaksterdam University, Berkeley Patients Group, and Harborside Health Center (HHC) — flourished under the George W. Bush administration. But they’ll be lucky to survive President Barack Obama’s first term.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors targeted Harborside Health Center in Oakland, as well as its sister facility in San Jose, for closure and civil asset forfeiture. In court papers filed by the US Attorney for the northern district of California, Melinda Haag, the federal government alleges that Harborside is “operating in violation of federal law” by providing cannabis to state-qualified patients.

This is— shocker!— a violation of an Obama campaign promise not to prioritize medical marijuana dispensaries operating within state law. It also contradicts what Attorney General Eric Holder said in June to soothe activists in the face of crack downs.

“We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law,” Mr. Holder told a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.

The debate over the Obama DEA’s increased oversight has been simmering online since he took office, but in Harborside, Obama has targeted a dispensary that is happy to fight him, in the open, and put sympathetic faces on its plight. Harborside started its push-back with a press conference featuring the father of a five-year-old named Jayden with severe seizures— “Can you imagine your kids having seizures every single day? Being in pain 12 to 14 hours a day? Crying and screaming?” This should look familiar to a community organizer. Although, on a stylistic note, if Harborside’s proprietors would change out of these clothes, they might have more luck with their pitch to the mainstream.

A study of DEA FOIA requests by reporter Mike Riggs at Reason Magazine puts some hard data to NORML’s assertions:

According to a comparison of publicly available data from FOIA.gov, the DEA rejected more FOIA requests in 2009, 2010, and 2011 than it did during the last year of George W. Bush’s administration.

When every FOIA exemption is taken into account (exemptions are the legal exceptions that allow agencies to withhold information from requesters), the DEA cited 2,195 exemptions in 2011, a 114 percent increase over 2008, when it cited only 1,024 exemptions.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, pro-legalization advocates are appropriating an interesting figure for their billboard campaign— Pat Robertson:

Robertson is not working with the campaign and did not approve the ad before its placement. A spokesman for Robertson had no immediate comment on the ad.

At least twice, the evangelical leader has publicly offered his support for decriminalizing marijuana. In March 2012, he told The New York Times that he “absolutely” supports pot-legalization measures that will appear on November ballots in Colorado and Washington, but that he would not campaign for those initiatives.

“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Robertson told the Times. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think.This war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Cool kids George W. Bush and Pat Robertson vs. statist stick-in-the-mud, Obama? Maybe that explains some of the 18-29 polling.

Our president is rather fond of making law enforcement decisions on a piecemeal basis— see Dream kids and DOMA— so why not make this one of the ones he declines to enforce? He could pretty easily make a federalism argument for not going guns-blazing into dispensaries obeying state law, and in fact, that was his explanation of his campaign promise. Does he imagine the upside of looking like a tough, law-and-order type with older independents and conservative Democrats is worth the disillusionment of his young, hip base? I’m not so sure, now that legalization has hit 50 percent in the Gallup poll. Ten of the 16 subgroups Gallup tested support legalization at 50 percent or above. Women, southerners, Republicans, conservatives, and 65+ are all under 50 percent (50-64-year-olds just barely, at 49 percent).

Is it the combo of women and 65+ that’s calling him? If bin Laden’s not earning him those tough-guy votes, I’m doubtful pot busts do the trick, but I could be misreading. Would they really notice if the status quo were maintained in California? Maybe it’s an overture to centrists and older voters in swing-state Colorado, which allows medical marijuana dispensaries and has a pot legalization measure on the ballot. Federal agents have threatened dispensaries there, but only because of alleged violations of state law, in accordance with Obama’s campaign promise. This Reuters story bets young people will turn out in large numbers for marijuana legalization, ironically giving the anti-pot president a boost where he needs it most. Sigh, stoners.

On the other hand, Obama is more than happy to get involved in state laws when he doesn’t happen to like them— see voter ID and Arizona immigration. Could it be Obama’s choom policy is just a reflection of his true beliefs and not politics?


If nothing else, this may offer some good protesting of Obama by would-be friendlies. What looks like Occupy but acts like a Tea Party?

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