Obama's medical marijuana 'reversal': A 'blatant contradiction'?

The Justice Department has threatened to crack down on medical marijuana businesses, even those allowed under state laws — and advocates aren't pleased

President Obama
(Image credit: Sonya N. Hebert/Dallas Morning News/Corbis)

Medical marijuana advocates were thrilled in 2009 when President Obama's Justice Department advised federal attorneys to avoid prosecuting patients who use medical marijuana in accordance with state laws, or their caregivers. Now, the thrill is gone. Deputy Attorney General James Cole has issued a new memorandum offering "guidance" on the earlier policy: All marijuana use and commerce is illegal under the Controlled Substance Act, Cole reiterated, and the new crop of state-sanctioned, large-scale marijuana warehouses and dispensaries are in federal crosshairs. Is this a flip-flop on pot?

Obama broke his word: There's obviously a "blatant contradiction" here, but Obama's trying to have it both ways, says Jacob Sullum in Texas' Odessa American. As late as last summer, his administration told Congress that state-approved pot purveyors could rest easy, as Obama had promised during his presidential run. This new "unacknowledged reversal" is a ploy to "get credit for tolerance" and for being tough on drugs.

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The new guidance isn't that different: I'd characterize the Cole memo as "a modest change in policy," not a reversal, says Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, in Salon. The Obama team was clearly surprised by the new crop of "multimillion-dollar operations" that sprouted up after the 2009 memo, and those big-time growers are on notice. But regarding mid-level dispensaries, "we're in a kind of wait-and-see mode as to what prosecutors will do state by state."

"Crackdown on medical marijuana ahead?"

Obama just lost the pot vote, either way: The Obama team insists, with some validity, that the "facts on the ground" are what have changed since 2009, not its marijuana policy, says Phillip S. Smith in AlterNet. But most medical marijuana advocates feel betrayed. The Cole memo hasn't just "dried up any reservoirs of good will" from Obama's first 18 months, it's sparked a "Cold War" between Obama and the pot community.

"Obama admin memo on medical marijuana stirs dismay and anger"