Obama’s Betrayal

I consider Obama’s presidency to be a mixed bag. There are things he has done that I support (Ending DADT, credit card reform, others I’m not thinking of) and things that I oppose (PPACA, Cash For Clunkers, GM Bailout, increasing CAFE Standards, offshore drilling moratorium). A lot of the things that really inflame fellow Leaguers (drone attacks) don’t particularly inflame me. There is at least one thing he has done that has sent me through the roof, however. Not because it’s of tantamount importance in the greater scheme of things, but because of how unnecessary it was and how I simply cannot put a positive spin on it.

I speak of the Administration going from “As a general matter, [we] should not focus federal resources individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” and “We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity…with state laws.” to “The intertwined subjects of medical marijuana, Montana law and medical necessity have no relevance to determining whether the government has proven the crimes charged in the indictment … Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law … and can’t be dispensed under a prescription.”

I don’t expect much from Democrats when it comes to pot legalization. I expect less from Republicans not named Gary Johnson. The most that can be said is that McCain would have raided more dispensaries than Obama did. Yet, even if this is true, it’s not the raids themselves that have me up in arms about this. It’s the announcement that encouraged the businesses to form in the first place only to have the founders arrested later on. Enforce the law (which is legally right) or don’t enforce the law (which is morally right), but it’s very important that everybody is clear on which route you’re going to go.

If there is any confusion as to the relationship between the Ogden Memo, which suggested that enforcement would not occur, and the proliferation of the dispensaries that garnered exceptional legal liability, this is from the Great Falls Tribune:

Many people in the medical marijuana community believed the Ogden memo demonstrated that President Barack Obama had fulfilled his 2007 campaign promise to “not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users.” {…}

In the span of just two years, the number of medical marijuana patients skyrocketed from 3,921 in September 2009 to more than 28,000 by the time the Legislature convened in January 2011. During that same period, the number of Montana caregivers authorized to grow marijuana for patients jumped from 1,403 to 4,833.

The problems that were occurring under Montana’s Medical Marijuana law shouldn’t be understated. They were significant and well known throughout the Mountain West region. So much so that the debate within Montana – a state in which MedMar passed a public vote by a substantial margin – was whether it should be mended or ended. The raids occurred while this debate was happening – literally, while a state senate panel was voting, the DEA was arming up.

Montana’s first registered dispenser died in prison about six weeks ago. His son is serving a five year sentence, his wife is serving two (for bookkeeping).

Being the federalist that I am, my view is that even if Montana law was spinning out of control it should have been allowed to remain a Montana issue. If the federal government was unwilling to allow it to continue, however, I would have understood that to if an announcement had been made to that effect. But whatever should have happened, this should not have happened. Maybe we should have a completely black and white view of the law and if it’s illegal it should be illegal. Maybe there’s room for gray. But the rules, official or unofficial, should not be changed after legitimate business licenses are allowed to be issued.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Why is marijuana illegal in the first place?

    This is one of those questions that really, really bugs me the more that I think about the various answers to the question. The shallow (“Drugs Are Bad”) to the ones with the most explanatory power (“it has to deal with a neo-puritan dislike of pleasure existing for its own sake”) all leave me really, really cold.

    • Why is marijuana illegal in the first place?

      Originally, straight-up racism against blacks and Mexicans.

      Then, hippie-punching.

      Now, inertia, and some people need it to continue.

      You could almost say it’s become “habitual”.

    • Glyph is largely right.

      The original prohibitions were born out of racism against blacks and Mexicans. Doubly so because it was seen as allowing black and Mexican men to seduce innocent white womanhood.

      I also think that the initial prohibition coincided with the repeal of Prohibition.

      What he does not add is that there was an International convention in the early 1960s that made Marijuana an illegal narcotic and the U.S. is one of many signatories. It will be very hard to get this repealed.

      Marijuana is illegal now because of inertia, because upper-middle class white people can smoke it easily without fear of jail time for the most part. There was a great article several months ago about all the pot-smoking that goes on in D.C. suburbs. It is easy to get away with smoking put in a detached suburban house over an urban area. There are still enough old people who think of it as “evil”, and I think this is one of the great subjects that people become hypocritical about as soon as they become parents.

      • “I also think that the initial prohibition coincided with the repeal of Prohibition.”

        This is far more correct than the racism angle. The liquor companies were a drivign force in the demonization of marijuana.

        • Mike, I wasn’t aware that the racism aspect in enacting marijuana prohibition was particularly controversial. My understanding, from History Channel documentaries such as “Hooked” and other sources, is that cannabis was long considered to be an intoxicant of choice for blacks and Mexicans, but not whites (who preferred alcohol, by long-standing European tradition).

          And this remained largely so, until the twin waves of alcohol Prohibition made alcohol both relatively harder to get and a riskier legal proposition (so increasing numbers of whites partook of cannabis instead), and the Depression caused a wave of anti-Mexican sentiment – then, as now, there were feared to be too many Mexicans coming here and taking our jobs and engaging in criminal behavior.

          So, you outlaw their intoxicant of choice, and make it easy to roust/arrest/deport them.

          • Glyph,

            Mexicans (and blacks) were certainly part of the equation, however I believe corporate interests played a larger role. Liquor companies saw marijuana as competition. William Randolph Hearst saw hemp as a problem for his timber interests. There was much more money behind those interests.

            Minorities were largely scapegoats used by the corporate interests to scare legislators. So in a sense, it was about minorities, but in an ancillary way to the root cause.

          • OK, I see where you are coming from now and I agree that minorities were largely scapegoated. But it’s rarely easy to scapegoat a group of people, unless there’s a certain base level of background prejudice against them already…at risk of Godwin, the Nazis were able to capitalize on a lot of anti-Semitism that was already in the stew, so to speak.

          • My own personal assumption is that there was a non-trivial amount of anti-Irish sentiment behind Prohibition and there were many thoughts behind it like we see with the war on drugs.

            The big problem is when *THOSE* people use it. Our kind can use it just fine without much of a problem.

            The bad part came from having to pass a constitutional amendment to get alcohol prohibited. That pretty much meant that you had to apply the law to everybody… which meant that it got repealed pretty damn quick.

            By the time of the War on Drugs, we had learned that you just need to pass the laws and then only apply them to the people you don’t like and overlook excesses on the part of the folks you do.

            It’s now that the war on drugs is starting to be applied to everybody that, once again, we’re thinking about repealing it.

          • at Jaybird:

            Read Last Call by Daniel Okrent. There were many groups angling for Prohibition for a variety of reasons but the one of the biggest forces were small-town Protestant Americans scared of their urban neighbors. It was the Irish but it was also the Jews and the Germans. They did not understand or like religious practices that involved alcohol. This is one of the events that helped make the Democratic Party an urban party.

            During the 1928 Presidential Election, Al Smith was hated for his Catholicism, his urban upbringing (and alien New York accent), and being an unrepentant wet. A political cartoon from the time showed Al Smith as a busboy with a big jug of wine serving Cardinals and the Pope. The caption was “Al Smith’s Cabinet.”

          • RE: Alcohol Prohibition being linked to anti-Irish/Catholic sentiment – I can’t believe this never occurred to me.

          • Jay and NewDealer,
            People tend to forget that alcohol was just as much a problem in small towns as cities. At least up in the mountains, it was.
            Plenty of places in Scotch-Irish territory that STILL are dry.

            A good deal of Prohibition was downright desperate women sick of their husbands leaving the kids to half-starve.

            I don’t doubt that there was some racism involved…

    • I think MJ should be legal. But that’s a political impossibility right now. Maybe that will change (maybe it won’t). But if it’s going to be illegal, or gray-market illegal, or whatever, we need to be clear on what precisely the status is. If you’re not going to look the other way, don’t say you will. If you say you’re going to look the other way, look the other way (or warn people when you’re going to stop).

      • I’ll settle for “decriminalized.” That’s different than, although admittedly a step towards, “legalized.” Anyone going to prison for pot in 2012 is ridiculous. Even if you had bricks of the stuff. Dying in prison for pot is a shameful waste.

  2. Prison companies are a major lobbying voice for keeping marijuana illegal. 850,000 arrests for marijuana-realted offenses last year. And the administration has caved.

    Obama turned out to be a decent Republican.

    • And that was the best we could hope for. Like Spector and Huntsman, I’ll vote for a -decent- republican. If we could get an Eisenhower (or Nixon) out of the deal, I’d vote for him gladly.

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