In an unprecedented move that began late last week, and continued over the holiday Labor Day weekend, the Obama Administration, and more specifically, the U.S. Department of Justice ended their silence on the issue of medical marijuana on the state level, announcing that they would not use the courts to challenge state laws recently passed in Colorado and Washington, as long as those states continue to adhere to a strict set of guidelines.
Though many critics, professional or genuine, are carelessly comparing this latest announcement to the 2009 Ogden Memo, those on the front lines of the effort to legalize cannabis know that last Thursday’s announcement, and some follow-up and clarifying releases over the weekend, mark a positive and necessary step towards that goal.
After Colorado and Washington easily passed laws in 2012 to become the first two states in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana for adults, all eyes shifted to President Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and the federal government to see what their next move would be. Leading up to their truly unprecedented shift in policy last week, the Obama Administration and Department of Justice (DOJ) have overseen an equally unprecedented amount of raids, seizures, and closures of medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives across the country, citing neglect for the federal laws that they now vow to relax.
A clear-cut Free Market/State’s Rights issue like medical marijuana, or recreational use of marijuana in the case of Colorado and Washington, should be an easy decision to support for Conservatives and Libertarians in the Republican-led house, and the gridlocked Senate. Keeping the federal government out of state-approved measures has been a Republican Party talking point for decades, if not longer. Yet now, with this issue placed on a tee for them, with public support for cannabis reform at an all-time high and rising, it appears that the Republicans are going to swing and miss.
Their conflict of interests is multi-faceted, as it has become for them on many issues, due to their propensity to always oppose the President regardless of the topic. Their initial reaction when hearing the latest round of statements from the Obama Administration was likely to attack him for being weak on drug policy, for endangering the children, and on and on. The fact that they have not gone that route is testament to the power of polling, and the undeniable shift in public opinion on pot.
They can’t oppose it. But now, with the Administration seemingly coming out in favor of a necessary move towards true reform, the Republicans who have quite literally made a career out of opposing the President cannot swallow their pride enough to agree with him either – and certainly not about weed!
So they’ve been silent, for the most part.
Governor Chris Christie (R – Burger King) weighed in heavy on last week’s announcement, saying in between bites, “I think it’s a mistake by the Attorney General, frankly. There is no such thing as medical marijuana, it’s just marijuana. He essentially by fiat legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington. That’s certainly something I would never do in New Jersey.”
Yeah, Guv, we know how you do it in Jersey…
But other than that, the Grand Ole Party has found its forked tongue tied, just as they did a few weeks ago, when on August 12th, AG Holder announced much more lax sentencing and punishment options for victimless, non-violent, drug-related crimes. Again, cutting costly budget items, reducing the burden on, and power of, federal prisons – these should be measures that true Conservatives can rally behind. Instead, it has been radio silence from the Right.
So-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, and those too frightened to step out and lead on this issue are no better than the cornered Republicans, but despite the powerful poll numbers, and despite reputable public figures like Dr. Sanjay Gupta finally stepping out of the cannabis closet, it was likely collegial peer-pressure applied by Senator Pat Leahy (D – VT), who triggered the latest series of events by scheduling a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the matter of marijuana and states’ rights on September 10th.
Understanding the way politics works, and the pride that fuels it all, Senator Leahy invited AG Holder and Deputy AG John Cole to testify, scheduling the hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building, an oversized venue typically reserved for televised events such as Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Leahy’s brilliant political chess-play appears to have motivated an Obama Administration that has for far too long neglected this issue of cannabis reform, an issue in which they quite literally have nothing to lose. The dwindling minority of strict prohibitionists don’t vote for Democrats anyway.
Yet still, the matter remains up for grabs, politically. The pragmatic approach taken so far by the President has earned him few fans in the cannabis community. Even these latest announcements have been met with more skepticism than optimism. With the 2016 presidential election looming on the horizon, a Conservative or Libertarian candidate willing to take the torch of cannabis reform and run on it could capture the voting bloc, and those favorable polling figures on marijuana may very well determine who is in charge next time around.