Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

February 26, 2009

HOLDER TO END MEDICAL MARIJUANA RAIDS.... Just two days after President Obama's inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a medical marijuana dispensary in northern California. The move was at odds with Obama's policy, at least as it was articulated during the campaign.

Today, we received some welcome clarification.

Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference Wednesday that the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana clubs that are established legally under state law. His declaration is a fulfillment of a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, and marks a major shift from the previous administration.

After the inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continued to carry out such raids, despite Obama's promise. Holder was asked if those raids represented American policy going forward.

"No," he said. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy."

My friend Alex Koppelman adds some helpful context:

It's a common misperception that, in states like California which have passed measures legalizing it, medical marijuana is completely legal. It's not. Federal law takes precedence, and federal authorities have made no secret of their belief that any user or distributor -- even one authorized by the state -- can be arrested at any time.

That's been the policy for the last three administrations. Not anymore.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

my god! what a breath of fresh air this president is!

Posted by: just bill on February 26, 2009 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

it's about friggin time. now perhaps that the adults are in charge, we can have a rational discussion about marijuana laws.

but i suspect those rootin' tootin' bully boys of the dea will never, ever give up their billion dollar bootie of guns/girls/booyah manliness.

Posted by: linda on February 26, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Encouraging, as much for the indication of the direction of the new government as for the action itself. As you mention, it's more than Clinton did or Gore or, probably, Kerry would have done.

Posted by: ericfree on February 26, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

This is amazing. Let's see if it sticks. I can't imagine the CIA/DEA nexus won't be threatened by such an adult approach to pot. What will they do about it, and how will we know when they do it?

Posted by: rich on February 26, 2009 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, is all of this "my friend so-and-so" stuff you've been doing a way of showing how plugged in you are, or are you making fun of John McCain. If the former, it's not a very effective way of doing so. If the latter, you are kicking a man when he no longer matters.

Posted by: skeptic on February 26, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

(Jaw hits floor)

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 26, 2009 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno. I'm all for legalization, but how much authority does the President have to not enforce federal law? The last eight years have made me wary when the executive branch tries to change the law by fiat.

Posted by: Simplicio on February 26, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno. I'm all for legalization, but how much authority does the President have to not enforce federal law?

Quite a bit, doncha think?

Posted by: gwangung on February 26, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what the wingers are crying about now. This is all about states' rights...right?

Posted by: shortstop on February 26, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Good. What a waste of money and lives the whole "war on drugs" has been. Hopefully this is the first step towards ending it.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on February 26, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

The President has lots of authority to determine the relative priority of enforcing various federal laws.

Remember back at the beginning of the Bush administration when they decided it was much more important to go after pornography than investigate terrorists?

Posted by: Butch on February 26, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

No wonder California's in such miserable shape. Liberals here are constantly stoned and because of them, there are never any barbecued Fritos for the rest of us.

Posted by: Myke K on February 26, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, is all of this "my friend so-and-so" stuff you've been doing a way of showing how plugged in you are, or are you making fun of John McCain.

Or, maybe he's actually friends with them and recognizes them as such. So what?

Posted by: Allan Snyder on February 26, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Won't someone please think about the children and what kind of message this will send them? The next thing you know, they'll be giving reefer to kindergarteners!

Yes of course I am being sarcastic, just channeling what will inevitably be said about this.

Posted by: Hysterical Suburban Octo-Mom on February 26, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

A California legislator is talking about legalizing marijuana and taxing the sales. This too would conflict with the federal law. I wonder whether President Obama's Justice Department would pursue criminal cases against a whole state of pot-smokers doing something that is legal under state law but illegal under federal law.

Posted by: bobbo on February 26, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

This is good. Holder's words on bringing back the assault weapons ban were far, far from good.

This is amazing. Let's see if it sticks. I can't imagine the CIA/DEA nexus won't be threatened by such an adult approach to pot. What will they do about it, and how will we know when they do it?

We'll know because the NYT and WaPo will be standing over the smoking rubble waving their hands and screaming "nothing to see here!"

Posted by: slaney black on February 26, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

"how much authority does the President have to not enforce federal law?"

Not only does the unitary executive have supreme authority in determining which laws he can break, he has ultimate authority in which laws to enforece. In short, the unitary executive is the law.

Thanks again, Dick.

Posted by: Markozilla on February 26, 2009 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many Bush appointees remain at Justice and DEA. Sadly, I'm sure they'll put up a fight.

Posted by: Mark on February 26, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

The solution to CA's perennial budget problems, apart from dumping the 2/3 rule for passing the budget, is to tax marijuana where it is grown and let the growers recoup from their customers. Of course this requires decriminalization, but it really is an important source of revenue for the state, and especially for Nor Cal as timber harvesting is phased out.

So glad to see this, even though I haven't indulged in 2 decades.

Posted by: Mimikatz on February 26, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K: "No wonder California's in such miserable shape. Liberals here are constantly stoned and because of them, there are never any barbecued Fritos for the rest of us."'

I normally don't agree with anything Mike K says, but this was funny (and not unintentionally funny like so many of his posts). :)

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 26, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Much as I welcome this from a practical point of view, I think this is quite bad as a legal precedent. Supposing a state decides to override the feds on some issue where we don't agree? This opens the door to that.

A better solution would be to amend the relevant federal statute to explicitly recognize a special case of state prerogative on this issue.

Posted by: jimBOB on February 26, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Both alcohol and tobacco kill! Mary Jane not so much, and this difference needs to be interjected into the debate. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 26, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with jimBOB. I disliked Bush/Cheney and their unitary executive theories. Just because I happen to like the current executive, doesn't make the policy any better.

Posted by: JWK on February 26, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK
I'm all for legalization, but how much authority does the President have to not enforce federal law?

The executive branch, of which the President is the head, has discretion to prosecute laws or not, to grant pardon for violations at any stage, and has broad power under the law to commute sentences of those convicted and sentenced without issuing pardons.

OTOH, the President also has an oath to see that the laws are faithfully executed. Certainly, a President may be held accountable for any use of the discretion discussed in the preceding paragraph, either by Congress through exercise of its oversight functions (up to and including, ultimately, impeachment) or by the American people at the ballot box.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 26, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I know, DEA has traditionally defered to local and state authorities in prosecuting local drug operations. They have generally limited their enforcement to operations that cross state lines or national borders or that involve organized crime organizations and to case where they were asked for assistance by local authoritities.

In that respect, the Bush administration prosecutions, while justified under feder law, represented a change of practice specifically intended to challenge the state laws.

While the ideal solution is for Congress to pass legislation recognizing and/or setting reasonable limits on state medical marijuana laws, this decision by Obama seems well within the discretion usually accorded to the President in his enforcement role.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 26, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I have a friend with a license to dispense medical marijuana in Colorado. And three friends in California. They'll be very happy about this. My Colorado friend is an interesting guy. Somehow, he made it through the Sixties without ever trying pot. I would never have thought that was even possible. He's the only person I've ever met who only smoked pot medical reasons. He has glaucoma, and he really needs it.

Posted by: fostert on February 26, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

in previous comment: feder=federal.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 26, 2009 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, both alcohol + tobacco kill, and marijuana does not. Unfortunately, alcohol + tobacco each have much more potent lobbies than does marijuana.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on February 26, 2009 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Myke K: As a medical cannabis cardholder & liberal here in Ca, let me assure you...I wait till I get home after work before taking advantage of my legal status.

Let us all hope the DEA actually listens to Holder.

Posted by: kindness on February 26, 2009 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

"I dunno. I'm all for legalization, but how much authority does the President have to not enforce federal law? The last eight years have made me wary when the executive branch tries to change the law by fiat."
Posted by: Simplicio
----------------------------
This is hardly changing the law. It's the equivalent to a Texan Prosecutor not going after sodomites 5 years ago (when it was illegal). There are tons of laws on the books that are not enforced, that is hardly changing a law, it's ignoring an outdated one.

I am not uncomfortable with the President ignoring a law most people think is non-sense. This could be cure to California's financial woes if they figure how to tax it.

I bet there are plenty of DEA guys out there sick of chasing weeds and if they still want to go after weeds, there are plenty of black market weeds to be chased. Will someone get the ball rolling on legislation putting weed patrol back into the state's control.

Posted by: ScottW on February 26, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I've been doing my part, with several pieces on my new blog at TPM Cafe, a long piece at DISPATCHES FROM THE CULTURE WARS and sending copies, complete with discussions, to my local representative and Senators as well as to Barney Frank -- along with a discussion as to why 'decriminalization' is the wrong way to go -- comparing it to DADT.

I'm also trying to start a correspondence with andrew Sullivan on it. But take a look at the CNBC website, and Cliff Mason's article -- as well as pictures (complete with prices and medical specialties) of some very beautiful premium varieties -- that i only wish i could afford.

The CNBC article is here .

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on February 26, 2009 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

I forgot that private URLs don't show up. My blog is here .

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on February 26, 2009 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if they have thought this through. Catching real criminals instead of sick people is going to take a lot more work -- they are faster and can see better. The DEA will have its hands full.

Posted by: jeri on February 26, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Best President Ever!

Lincoln freed the slaves...

Barack FREED THE WEED!

Posted by: Mark Farris on February 26, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe there's some hope that the Justice Department will tell the DEA to let allergy sufferers buy a 30-day supply of Sudafed...

Posted by: Stephen Spear on February 26, 2009 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

How long before Obama is up on charges for this? If the polls don't strongly support his decision, this is far from over. Even if they do, every serious crime committed by anyone who has smoked within a month of transgressing(that's with a 'g', by the way), will become national news and be given the Obama seal of approval by RW radio with no dispute from the MSM.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 26, 2009 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK
Steve, is all of this "my friend so-and-so" stuff...

Genrally, it is considered good form to acknowledge any potential conflict of interest when citing a source. So identifying a source as a friend is probably not so much name-dropping as it is full disclosure.

Posted by: Singularity on February 26, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

That's been the policy for the last three administrations. Not anymore.

Isn't this equivalent to one of those "presidential signing statements", where the president announces his intention NOT to enforce some lines of federal law? Isn't this a violation of the presidential requirement to see to it that the laws be faithfully executed?

The Congress passed a law against marijuana, and the Supreme Court ruled that the Congress had the authority to pass the law that it did. You want the president to repeat one of the indiscretions of Pres. Bush because you don't like the federal law in this instance.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 26, 2009 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

now perhaps that the adults are in charge, we can have a rational discussion about marijuana laws.

Now that the Democrats have majorities in both houses, as well as occupying the White House, perhaps the marijuana prohibition will be repealed.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 26, 2009 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm impressed -- highly so, clearly -- with Pres Obama & AG Holder for actually having the stones to go thru with this, esp so early in the term. (Anyone want to start a pool on when the first major wingnut goes all "see we told you so!" on this?)
I had it figured that it would take a Rethug administration to do anything along these lines. (The whole only-Nixon-could-go-to-China-without-Nixon-yelling-treason thing.)
In Massachusetts, a ballot initiative recently passed decriminalizing possession of small amounts of weed.
I'm no longer positioned to get any immediate personal benefit out of a relaxation of our culture's rabid hypocrisy and irrationality about The War on [Certain] Drugs. But it's great to look at the tea leaves (as it were) and see change is on the way.

Posted by: smartalek on February 26, 2009 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

Marler, you objection in your 8:15 post has been repeatedly addressed above. You are free to offer a rebuttal, but you ought to at least acknowledge that.

As for you suggestion 8:18 that the prohibition will be repealed with Democrats in charge, this country's unyielding committment to the War on Drugs (tm) is unfortunately a bipartisan idiocy.

From time to time a few prominent individuals from both Republicans and Democrats have called for a re-evaluation of it. A few have been viciously attacked (rhetorically, not physically) and most have been utterly ignored. At no time have they succeeded in starting a serious debate on the issue.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 26, 2009 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

tanstaafl:
When you say "this country's unyielding committment to the War on Drugs (tm) is unfortunately a bipartisan idiocy" you are making precisely the same mistake that the politicians make. They assume the public is far more anti-marijuana than they are. My feeling is that while most polls show a close to even split on legalizing marijuana, there is no measurement of the strength of the opposition. (My guess is that if oppose were split into two options, 'oppose, but it wouldn't matter that much' and 'oppose and would work to get it changed' the first one would get about 80% of the votes.)

The politicians are 'fighting the last war.' They underestimated the strength and passion of the minority that were anti-choice and anti-gay, so they think the same is true about marijuana.

I think two cases involving prominent athletes this last year show this plainly. The first is Michael Phelps, of course. Kellogg's never has shown the tens of thousands, or the thousands, or even the tens of letters they received in support, but they became a laughingstock through the blogosphere and on tv, while Phelps hasn't been condemned from the pulpit or from the stage of CPAC -- afaik.

But there was another prominent athlete busted for marijuana -- in his case legally busted. A cop stopped him, smelled a familiar smell, and asked him if he''d been smoking. "Oh, no, that's left over from yesterday." The cop searched the car anyway, found a couple of blunts, and wrote him up for a minor offense. Since it was during the season, his team punished him as well, by suspending him one game.

The story barely made the local newspapers, got no national press, and there were no protestors lining up protesting his minor punishments from the law an the team. In fact, it didn't even get mentioned when he, Santonio Holmes, was named MVP of the Superbowl.

The fact is, this is getting discussed, and not just in the blogosphere. Some of it is even surprising me, and I've been arguing that legalization is quite possible by the end of this summer and very probable by summer 2011.

But still, if yesterday you'd bet me that a business oriented news channel would run a photo slideshow of various types of premium marijuana, with a commentary on the special virtues of each medicinally and other ways, by the end of the year, I would have given you a funny look and odds of twenty to one against.

I would have lost that bet today. (See the link at 5:12 above.)

It's really a 'first olive out of the jar' situation, and again, I expect that first olive any day now.

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on February 26, 2009 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler wrote: Isn't this equivalent to one of those "presidential signing statements", where the president announces his intention NOT to enforce some lines of federal law?

No. SASQ.

Isn't this a violation of the presidential requirement to see to it that the laws be faithfully executed?

No -- no one said the justice Department is not still enforcing marijuana laws.

Your occasional pretense as an honest commentator -- unconvincing as it is -- never lasts long, does it, Marler? Shame on you.

Posted by: Gregory on February 27, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't this a violation of the presidential requirement to see to it that the laws be faithfully executed?

Maybe it is. Of course, the only course of redress is to have the president impeached. Let us know how that goes...

Posted by: Markozilla on February 27, 2009 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly