Obama Should Keep Promise on Medical Marijuana


As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama stated, "The basic concept of using medical marijuana ... [is] entirely appropriate," and pledged, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue."

As president, Obama promised, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide [the] decisions of my administration."

Yet recent actions of the administration belie these assurances. These actions include:

  • The Department of Justice sent letters this past spring to state lawmakers that were debating legislation to allow for the licensed distribution of medical cannabis, threatening prosecution of those involved with said efforts if the measures went forward;
  • The IRS has assessed crippling penalties on taxpaying medical cannabis facilities in California by denying these operations the right to file standard expense deductions;
  • The Department of Treasury has strong-armed local banks and other financial institutions into closing their accounts with medicinal cannabis operators;
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a nine-year-old administrative petition that called for hearings regarding the federal rescheduling of cannabis for medical use, ignoring extensive scientific evidence of its medical efficacy;
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse rejected an FDA-approved protocol to allow for clinical research assessing the use of cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, stating, "We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana."

Most recently, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, along with the four U.S. attorneys from California, announced plans for a coordinated effort against operations in California that provide above-ground access to cannabis for those patients qualified to use the substance in accordance with state law.

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If the federal government is truly concerned about the diversion of medical marijuana or its potential abuse in California then it would be better served to encourage--rather than to discourage--local and statewide efforts to regulate this industry accordingly. The Obama administration's proposed actions in California will only result in limiting patients' regulated, safe access to medicine. It will also cost California jobs and needed tax revenue.

Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with California law and voters' sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.

Paul Armentano

About Paul Armentano Deputy Director of NORML

Obama, Barack
Obama administration

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