Just a month after Barack Obama took office, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference that the Justice Department would no longer raid medical marijuana clubs that are established legally under state law.
The declaration fulfilled a campaign promise made by President Obama and would have marked a major shift in federal drug policy.
Despite Obamaâ€™s promise, the Drug Enforcement Agency continued to raid medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations after Inauguration Day. In February 2009, Holder was asked if those raids represented American policy going forward.
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œWhat the president said during the campaign, youâ€™ll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what weâ€™ll be doing in law enforcementâ€¦ What he said during the campaign is now American policy.â€
Fast-forward two and a half years, and it seems as though the Obama administration has been breaking a few campaign promises.
Federal prosecutors are now cracking down on marijuana dispensaries in California, warning the operators of such stores and their landlords that they must shut down within 45 days or face criminal charges.
In a letter signed by U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy that was sent to at least 16 different medical marijuana businesses, dispensary owners and landlords were warned that, â€œUnder United States law, a dispensaryâ€™s operations involving sales and distribution of marijuana are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions. Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States… regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary.â€
The federal crackdown on medical marijuana businesses has intensified to the point of signaling a clear policy shift. Despite Obamaâ€™s campaign promises and Holderâ€™s speech in 2009 declaring that the federal government would respect the rights of the states, there have been sharp increases in raids from a wide variety of different agencies.
For example, a recent series of dispensary raids in Montana involved agents from not only the FBI and DEA, but also the IRS and Environmental Protection Agency.
Sadly, breaking campaign promises is just par for the political course.
Instead of progressive drug reform, we ended up with a Democrat who has imposed even stricter anti-drug policies than the Bush administration. Donâ€™t boggart the reform, bro!
What disturbs me most about this is the fact that itâ€™s the states that often lead the way when it comes to federal reform. The ending of slavery was largely decided by the states. The womenâ€™s suffrage movement started in Wyoming, of all places. States are now deciding the issue of marriage equality. Perhaps most apropos of drug reform, it was the states that started voting one-by-one to repeal prohibition.
There are currently 16 states whose voters have approved the use of medical marijuana. While the efforts to shut down the California dispensaries are by far the most aggressive so far, each of these states have been affected by the recent federal crackdown.
Itâ€™s not a big secret that medical marijuana proponents are also in favor of full legalization. A common criticism of the dispensary model is that itâ€™s just a thinly disguised ploy to make high-grade marijuana widely available to card-carrying recreational users.
Even though full legalization was defeated in California last year, voters in Washington are pushing for an initiative known as I-502 to be placed on the 2012 ballot that would tax and regulate marijuana just like alcohol.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who has come out in favor of legalization, says murders by Mexican drug cartels now number almost 38,000 each year and that 60 percent of drug-cartel profits come from marijuana sales in the U.S.
â€œWeâ€™re complicit in those 38,000 murders. Thatâ€™s what prohibition has done,â€ Holmes said in an interview with the Seattle Times.
At the end of 2005 (the most recent year that numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics are available), more than half a million people were behind bars for drug offenses in the United States.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world by far. According to the BJS, people sentenced for drug crimes accounted for 21 percent of all state prisoners and 55 percent of all federal prisoners.
Itâ€™s time to stop this madness. The federal government needs to get out of the way of progress and let the states decide these issues for themselves.
Joe Vajgrt is a senior journalism major who doesnâ€™t even partake. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.