"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance"

--James Madison--

"The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries, but between authoritarians and libertarians"

--George Orwell--

Obama's "Pot Policy"

First posted at The Smirking Chimp, February 23, 2010

"And now JMadison will tell us all again how great ob'wa's new pot policy is..."
OK, so I will. That cavalier and dismissive comment was made by another Chimpster in response to David Sirota's overwrought and sometimes erroneous column entitled "Obama's Military and DEA Rogues Gone Wild".
I'm really a big fan of Sirota's, but in this case, he isn't telling the whole story.
First off, the Chimpster who made the comment at the beginning of this screed is making a molehill out of a mountain. There are thousands, maybe millions of us here in this country for whom medical cannabis ("pot" has replaced "marijuana" as the "prohibition word" to demonize cannabis) is a very large and serious issue, indeed.

I have Parkinson's and epilepsy, and cannabis makes a big positive difference in my life. It has benefits not found in any of the conventional prescription medications for these illnesses. For example, it's the only drug that can at least partially alleviate Parkinson's symptoms almost immediately. There is also strong evidence to suggest that it may slow the progression of the disease, as well.
There are many others like me. We tried for many years to get an initiative on the ballot. Time and time again, our (then) Republican Secretary of State simply invalidated enough signatures to keep the initiatives off the ballot. Easy to do, since she didn't have to justify her actions. Signature validation is at the discretion of the SOS here.
Finally, in 2000, we got a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. It passed handily.
The amendment specified that people with certain medical conditions could get a recommendation from their doctor to obtain a medical cannabis license. It also made clear that people suffering from such conditions need not actually have a license to fall under the constitutional protections.
It also set forward certain limitations. Medical cannabis patients are limited to possession of no more than 2 ounces. They are allowed to have as many as six plants growing at a time, no more than three of which can be flowering at any given time. It also allows these restrictions to be waived if there is a pressing need for more, which determination is supposed to be made by a doctor.
That's all OK by me. I've been able to supply my needs just fine with my three flowering plants at any given time, and the 400W hps never gives me much more than 2 ounces yield.
So, I'm in compliance with the Colorado constitution. That has also protected me from state prosecution. But the threat of a Federal prosecution has always been the sword dangling over our heads. The Bush administration kept after legitimate medical users/growers, even though our relatively liberal 10th circuit was loathe to hear such cases, and frequently dismissed them.
The DEA was still to be feared.
Then, soon after taking office, President Obama instructed attorney general Eric Holder to not pursue cases where medical cannabis providers/patients were clearly in compliance with the laws of their state. This represented an almost unprecedented Federal sop to states' rights.
Enter Sirota. He's right about some DEA agents "going rogue". They don't answer directly to the President, and sometimes pursue agendas contrary to those of the Justice Department. But they can't bring charges or prosecute, since that's what the DOJ does.
In the four examples in Sirota's column, three of the busts resulted in no charges at all. Two dispensaries and a testing center were deemed by the DOJ to be in compliance with the Colorado Constitution, so no charges were filed.
It would appear that Obama's "pot policy" is still intact.
But wait! The DEA busted, and the DOJ is pursuing charges against a "medical" grower from the suburbs here. What's up with that? Did the Obama administration renege on yet another policy position?
No. Not at all.
Remember, this is all contingent on the people involved being in compliance with state law. That means my little basement grow is protected. It doesn't necessarily mean that what amounts to a commercial operation is protected.
The Colorado Constitution also specifies that a patient may have a caregiver grow for him. Lately, the courts have agreed that dispensaries and growers can be considered caregivers, but the patients have to so designate them.
The idiot in question called a local TV station to brag about his suburban growhouse. A reporter visited him. He had over 400 plants in flowering stage, and boasted that this would make him over $400,000 a year.
This is not what we voted for. While I would prefer to see complete legalization, I was still happy for the medical amendment. I get mad at people who abuse it, because they give credence to the prohibitionists who kept saying that this was just a back door to legalization. Well, one can hope, but that really wasn't our intent. We just wanted to make sure that sick people who needed it could grow their own without fear of being charged with "drug manufacturing" (that's right folks--cannabis grows and meth labs are the same under Federal and most state laws).
The idiot was then busted by a DEA agent who is obviously a self-important asshole. However, he was right this time. The grower did not have the designation of the 150 or so patients that he would have needed to justify that many flowering plants.
He was clearly not in compliance with the Colorado Constitution. While the DOJ declined to press charges against the dispensaries and testing facilities, they are pressing charges against this clown, who is obviously a run of the mill commercial grower.
He would never have been busted, though, had he not just had to seek his 15 minutes of fame, and show off his clearly illegal grow on local TV. What's a LEO supposed to do when you wave it in their face like that?
So, no, this arrest and prosecution has nothing to do with Obama's "pot policy". It has to do with the fact that prohibition still lives on, both in our books of law and in our penal system. The President has made an unprecedented exception to Federal law enforcement, but it is not unlimited. The Colorado Constitution and the DOJ have set down limits on this activity, and violators may be prosecuted.
The big difference is this--under Bush, even those of us who were in compliance with the Colorado Constitution were at peril of prosecution. Under Obama, we are not. Plain and simple.
In the meantime, I and others will continue to press for the end of prohibition. We may live to see some of it become reality.
Until then, though, Sirota should spend his time chasing the many real demons instead of a few contrived ones. And that other Chimpster should probably show a little more sympathy towards those of us for whom this is not a trivial issue.