Cannabis law reformers and civil libertarians are anxiously awaiting President Obama’s interview on 20/20 tonight and are already examining his answers as an ABC press release has provided a partial transcript of the interview. From what I have seen and read so far, President’s Obama’s answers on the subject provide us with a mixed bag, his position isn’t all bad, but it isn’t great either.
President Obama makes it clear that recreational users of marijuana are not a priority of the Justice Department, just as he has already said about individual medical marijuana patients. This statement certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise as the federal government has never targetedindividual cannabis consumers and simply doesn’t have the resources to do so. So while cannabis consumers in Washington and Colorado are likely safe from federal prosecution, so are members of the cannabis community across the country, regardless of their state’s marijuana law, so President Obama’s statements regarding recreational users are pretty meaningless.
The big question, that is still unanswered, is whether the Obama Administration will target the producers and providers of cannabis in Colorado and Washington. At one point, Barack Obama, as a presidential candidate, promised that medical marijuana growers wouldn’t be a target under his administration. Unfortunately, President Obama didn’t follow through on his campaign promise and medical marijuana growers and providers have been targeted by the Obama Justice Department.
Washington and Colorado policy makers are working on the implementation of a regulated supply system similar to alcohol A supply system will need to license and regulate commercial cannabis growers as well as retail outlets. Will commercial growers and retail outlets be a priority for prosecution by the Obama Administration? Will the landlords of cannabis growers and retailers be threatened with prosecution, injunctions and forfeiture proceedings? These are the much bigger questions that will determine whether state legalization laws are allowed to operate as intended by the voters. Without a regulated supply system, criminal cartels will still be able to profit as the underground market will remain the only way recreational users will be able to acquire cannabis. Also, states won’t be able to generate the millions of dollars in tax revenue or create thousands of jobs that a licensed and regulated supply system can provide.
On a positive note, President Obama calls for a conversation about how to resolve the conflict between state and federal law and this is on the heels of Senator Patrick Leahy proposing federal legislation to reconcile this issue. Senator Leahy’s initial proposal seems to only tackle individual consumers as well, but hopefully through hearings, the senator and his congressional allies will realize that a licensed and regulated supply system, similar to alcohol, is the best policy for the states and our country. Drug cartels’ profits from the illicit cannabis trade will go away, just as Al Capone and other Prohibition Era gangsters were no longer able to profit from bootlegging liquor once Alcohol Prohibition was repealed. Of course, criminal cartels have other revenue streams, but shouldn’t we do what it takes to shut down one of their profit sources, particularly when our own states can capture that revenue and create much-needed jobs in the process?
As Ethan Nadelmann notes in his excellent piece, there is a remarkable difference in the President’s tone now than when he laughed at the question of marijuana legalization a couple of years ago, so progress is being made. However, it seems that those hoping that President Obama would lead on this issue, will be disappointed. It is clear that it is upon us, cannabis law reformers and civil libertarians, to continue our own progress and expand our political base to incorporate new allies and to organize ourselves better than ever before. We are now winning this war, a war that we didn’t choose, as it is being waged against us, but we have to continue to lead the way and President Obama will have no choice but to follow us.
Republished with special permission from the National Cannabis Coalition