By Alexander Cockburn
A heart in love will decipher every squiggle in the letter as a kiss. In the final days of the 2008 campaign and in the opening ones of his administration, President Obama and his top legal aides seemed to the eager ears of marijuana legalizers on the West Coast to be opening the door to a new, sensible era.
Here was the basic line as dispensed by Attorney General Eric Holder on March 18, 2009: "The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law. To the extent that people do that and try to use medical marijuana laws (such as California's Prop 215) as a shield for activity that is not designed to comport with what the intention was of the state law, those are the organizations, the people, that we will target. And that is consistent with what the president said during the campaign."
The next day drug activists exulted in a big win.
On Jan. 22 (two days after Obama's inauguration) Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted a raid on a South Lake Tahoe, Calif., cannabis dispensary run by a wheelchair-bound entrepreneur named Ken Estes. They seized about five pounds of herbal medicine and a few thousand dollars. No arrests were made. "It was a typical rip-and-run," Estes said.
What the love-lost Obamians forgot is how to read political declarations with a close and cynical eye and to bear in mind the eternal power struggles between federal prosecutors and enforcers — e.g., the DEA and equivalent state bodies.
The feds wanted to make it completely clear that, whatever Obama might hint at, they weren't going to be hog-tied by wussy state laws. Bust a guy in a wheelchair; bust a dispensary; make your point: I'm the man.
Bruce Anderson, editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, describes the realities: "In just the last week, raids were conducted on two homes, one in Eureka, one in Redwood Valley, where better than $400,000 cash was confiscated by the forces of law and order.
"Every time the cops make big cash hauls more people are convinced that they, too, should get into the pot business. Looked at objectively, and all things considered, the nebulous legal status of marijuana is perfect for Mendocino County's financial well-being. Every year the cops take off just enough dope to keep pot prices at least a thou a pound."
Legalization would further depress the Mendocino County economy, and depress it big time.
Short of legalization, nothing is going to stop any kind of grow, indoors or outdoors. Because there is nothing that can be done short of legalization.
But legalization is not a realistic prospect and so the status of the herb will inevitably remain cloudy. For its part, the DEA is announcing big impending raids in Mendocino County; some targeting the vast stretches of the (federally) controlled Mendocino National Forest, and the growers drawing on the waters of the middle Eel.
There are serious environmental and criminal issues here. Obama said at the start of his administration, "I can't ask the Justice Department to ignore completely a federal law that's on the books. What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.'" As Mark Scaramela, also of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, says, there are growers, many of them violent, using public lands. Who wants to go hiking and run into an armed criminal operation? These same growers are responsible for associated illegal water diversions and serious environmental degradation. In one recent raid, they took a mile of black plastic irrigation pipe out of the Mendocino National Forest.
Fine for the Feds to go into action here. What's not fine is a far-reaching national campaign against medical growers right across the U.S. All the usual arsenal of harassments have been brought into play by multiple agencies, starting with the IRS, bankrupting dispensaries by simply denying elementary business expenses. Has the drug war — as a war on the poor — slowed down? In 2010, some 850,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana related offenses of which the vast majority was for possession. That means since Obama took office, it is likely that well over 2.5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana.
This under the aegis of a president who cozily disclosed his marijuana habit as a young man. One bust, Obama, and you'd be still on the South Side of Chicago. But then, your sense of self-righteousness is too distended to be deflated by any sense of hypocrisy. The war on marijuana has nothing to do with medical properties and so forth. Drug policy in the U.S. is about social control. That's the name of the game.
This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/obama-and-marijuana-great-betrayal-1339163674. All rights are reserved.