Barney Frank Urges Obama to Leave Medical Marijuana to States

Sometimes libertarians can even side with the craziest of liberals:

Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) are urging the Obama administration this week to reiterate earlier vows to leave the enforcement of medical marijuana laws up to states.

The lawmakers want Attorney General Eric Holder to re-avow his commitment to a 2009 Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum — known as the Ogden Memo — that said the agency won’t target medical marijuana patients or providers if they are not violating state law.

Use and distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law, although more than a dozen states have approved its use for medical purposes.

Frank and Polis cited two primary reasons they think DOJ should leave the issue to states: first, the agency has limited resources, which they argue should go toward prosecuting more serious crimes — the same argument DOJ offered in the Ogden Memo; and second, targeting the medical marijuana industry “harms the people whose major goal is to seek relief from pain wholly caused by illness,” they said.

Of course they aren’t going to cite the Tenth Amendment/states rights, or individual liberty as legitimate reasons for getting the federal government out of this business. Also, they are explicitly referring to medical marijuana, not the war on drugs generally (many people supporting medical marijuana rights do so as a first step in ending the war on drugs; if Barney Frank is doing just this or not, I can’t say). However, it is a step in the right direction, albeit not for the right reasons.

In 2004, Illinois state senator Barack Obama had the following to say about the war on drugs:

In terms of legalization of drugs, I think that the battle – the war on drugs has been a utter failure and we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws, but I’m not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana. What I do believe is that we need to rethink how we are operating in the drug wars and I think that currently we are not doing a good job.

Specifically regarding medical marijuana, presidential candidate Obama appeared to be open minded in 2007:

My attitude is if the science and doctors suggest that the best palliate of care, the best way to relieve pain and suffering is through medical marijuana then that’s something that I’m open to, because there’s no difference between that and morphine when it comes to just giving people relief from pain. But I want to do it under strict guidelines, I want to make sure it is prescribed in the same way that other pain killers or palliated drugs would be prescribed.

As for the Department of Justice’s role in prosecuting medical marijuana users, he took a strong stance four years ago, stating:

I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good of resources.

Unfortunately, as Reason’s Jacob Sullum noted, he has not kept his word:

During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly said he would call off the Drug Enforcement Administration’s raids on both medical marijuana users and their suppliers. In a March 2008 interviewwith southern Oregon’s Mail Tribune, he said, “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.” Two weeks after Obama took office, a White House spokesman reiterated that position, saying, “The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws.”

In October 2009, David Ogden, then the deputy attorney general, sent a memo that seemed to fulfill this promise. “As a general matter,” he told U.S. attorneys, they “should not focus federal resources” on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Yet the DEA’s medical marijuana raids not only have continued but are more frequent under Obama than they were under George W. Bush. Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which argues that patients who can benefit from marijuana should be able to obtain it legally, counts well over 100 raids in the two years and four months since Obama’s inauguration, compared to about 200 during Bush’s eight years in office. “The Obama administration really is being more aggressive than the administration of his predecessor,” says ASA spokesman Kris Hermes.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that the DOJ would soon be clarifying their position on medical marijuana. Expect nothing more than a cosmetic pronouncement as their practical policies are extremely unlikely to change.

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