In October of 2011, the White House issued an official response to a petition NORML submitted via their We the People outreach program on the topic of marijuana legalization. Despite being one of the most popular petitions at the site’s launch, the answer we received was far from satisfactory. Penned by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the response featured most of the typical government talking points. He stated that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment and that its use is a concern to public health. “We also recognize,” Gil wrote, “that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”
Well, just over a year later, the White House has responded again to a petition to deschedule marijuana and legalize it. The tone this time is markedly different, despite being penned by the same man.
Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske
Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.
At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.
Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.
When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.
Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
No tirade about protecting our children. No alarmist claims about sky rocketing marijuana potency and devastating addiction potential. Just a few short paragraphs stating we are “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana” and deferring to an interview with the President where he stated arresting marijuana users wasn’t a priority and that the laws were still being reviewed. While far from embracing an end to marijuana prohibition, the simple fact that America’s Drug Czar had the opportunity to spout more anti-marijuana rhetoric and instead declined (while giving credence to the issue by stating it is a serious national conversation) it’s at the very least incredibly refreshing, if not a bit aberrational. We can only hope that when the administration finishes “reviewing” the laws just approved by resounding margins in Washington and Colorado, they choose to stand with the American people and place themselves on the right side of history.
“We the People” are already there.
President Obama Breaks His Silence on Marijuana Legalization: We’ve Got Bigger Fish to Fry Than Cannabis UsersDecember 14, 2012
Breaking his silence on the topic of marijuana legalization since two states approved ballot initiatives to regulate cannabis, President Barack Obama addressed the issue in an interview with Barbara Walters this week.
While the administration’s broader policy is still being developed, the president stated that arresting recreational users in these states would not be a priority.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry. It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal. – President Obama
The president also clarified that he personally is not in favor of leglization, but that it is a more complex issue than his own view on it:
“This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about, how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal?” – President Obama
One line stands out as particularly interesting, during his answer he says:
“What I think is, that at this point, in Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. – President Obama
This is a great start and an encouraging sign that the federal government doesn’t intend to ramp up its focus on individual users. Though considering it is extremely rare for the federal government to handle possession cases (only a few percent of annual arrests are conducted by the federal government), and that this is the same stance he took on medical cannabis before raiding more dispensaries than his predecessor, his administration’s broader policy will be the one to watch and according to his Attorney General Holder that pronouncement may come soon. Speaking yesterday in Boston, Attorney General Holder stated that:
“There is a tension between federal law and these state laws. I would expect the policy pronouncement that we’re going to make will be done relatively soon.” – Attorney General Eric Holder
UPDATE: Politico has now posted President Obama’s interview for viewing. Check it out below.
Federal authorities with the US Attorney’s Los Angeles office issued official warning letters to 68 Los Angeles medical cannabis dispensaries today, initiated forfeiture lawsuits against three properties that did business with dispensaries, and served search warrants on three further locations.
In an official statement on today’s action, US Attorney André Birotte Jr.stated:
“Over the past several years, we have seen an explosion of commercial marijuana stores -– an explosion that is being driven by the massive profits associated with marijuana distribution. As today’s operations make clear, the sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law. Even those stores not targeted today should understand that they cannot continue to profit in violation of the law.”
The LA Weekly is reporting that the list of targets included every single dispensary in the Downtown, Huntington, and Eagle Rock areas of the city. You can read more media coverage here and here. We will keep you updated as the situation develops.
Marijuana law reform legislation still remains pending in several this 2012 legislative session. Is your state among them? Find out here.
More importantly, have you taken the time to call or write your state elected officials this year and urged them to support these pending reforms? If not, NORML has provided you with all of the tools to do so via our capwiz ‘Take Action Center’ here.
Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — where we spotlight specific examples of pending marijuana law reform legislation from around the country.
CALIFORNIA: State lawmakers have taken action in recent days on a number of important marijuana law reform measures. Below are some highlights:
1. Assemblywoman Nora Campos has withdrawn legislation, AB 2465, which sought to mandate that state-qualified medicinal marijuana patients obtain a state-issued identification card. Under present law, patients may voluntarily obtain county-issued identification cards, but no such mandate exists in the language of Prop. 215. California NORML, among other groups, objected to AB 2465 on the basis that it infringed upon patients privacy and was likely unconstitutional.
2. On Thursday, April 19, Assemblywoman Norma Torres amended AB 2552 to remove language that initially sought to expose marijuana consumers to enhanced DUI penalties based solely upon the presence of THC in their blood. Assemblywoman Torres struck this language after NORML and others roundly criticized the legislation as being discriminatory toward cannabis consumers, including those who use the substance therapeutically in compliance with state law. NORML argued that AB 2552 was unnecessary, unscientific, and would have exposed cannabis consumers to wrongful convictions. NORML wishes to thank those of you who took the time to contact your member of the Assembly to help us successfully derail AB 2552.
3. Last week, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved Sen. Mark Leno’s bill (SB 1506) to defelonize cases involving the simple possession of drugs (including hashish) to a misdemeanor offense. (Marijuana possession is already decriminalized under state law to a non-criminal infraction.) This measure is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU, and is supported by California NORML.
4. Finally, two separate bills seeking to clarify the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis under state law are moving forward in the legislature. On Tuesday, April 17, members of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety voted 4-2 in favor of AB 2312. The bill now awaits action from the Assembly Appropriations Committee. AB 2312 seeks to establish a state regulatory system for medical cannabis under the Department of Consumer Affairs. Under this proposal, medicinal cannabis dispensaries would become state-licensed. It would also require cities and counties to allow at least one marijuana dispensary for every 50,000 residents – unless local voters specifically approve a ban or tighter restrictions.
Separate legislation in the state Senate, SB 1182, was heard and approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday, April 24. SB 1182 seeks to bar from state prosecution those establishments that operate within the state Attorney General’s 2008 written guidelines for marijuana cooperatives and collectives. It further states, “This bill would exempt those entities and persons from criminal prosecution or punishment solely on the basis of the fact that they receive compensation for actual expenses incurred in carrying out activities that are in compliance with those guidelines.”
Supporters of these measures believe they will provide California dispensaries, the public, and law enforcement with needed clarity regarding how and where such facilities may operate. Doing so may also limit the federal government’s ongoing interference in California’s medical marijuana operations.
CONNECTICUT: Lawmakers in a pair of Committees in recent days voted in favor of Raised Bill 5389, which allows for the limited legalization of medical marijuana by qualified patients. The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure imminently. [**UPDATE: ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26, THE FULL HOUSE PASSED THE MEASURE 96-51. THE MEASURE NOW AWAITS ACTION BY THE SENATE.] If you live in Connecticut and wish to receive future e-mail updates on the progress of this legislation and what you can do to assure its passage, please contact Erik Williams, Connecticut NORML Executive Director at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: On Wednesday, April 25, members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly 236 to 96 in favor of Senate Bill 409, which would allow for the limited legalization and cultivation of medical marijuana. The super-majority approval came following renewed veto threats by Democrat Gov. John Lynch.
SB 409 allows qualified patients to possess up to four cannabis plants and/or six ounces of marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
According to an MPP legislative update, the bill is expected to be referred to a second House committee for further consideration before returning to the Senate for a concurrence vote.
The Senate concurrence vote is pivotal. In March, member of the Republican-led New Hampshire State Senate voted 13-11 in favor of Senate Bill 409. (You can watch lawmakers reaction to the vote here.) Support from three additional senators will be necessary to override the Governor’s expected veto. Please check NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ for updates or visit NH Compassion here.
If Connecticut and New Hampshire both enact medical marijuana legislation this year, they will become the 17th and 18th states to do so since 1996.
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This week in weed: a recent study further illustrates marijuana’s effectiveness in treating chronic pain and a federal judge dismisses the NORML Legal Committee lawsuit against the federal government.