Blowing Smoke: Obama Promises One Thing, Does Another on Medical Marijuana

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That familiar odor wafting from San Francisco street corners, storefronts, and the neighborhood growhouse? It's the smell of legality. Medical cannabis is the law of the land in California, 14 other states, and the District of Columbia. Yet, as many marijuana users will tell you, protection under state law hasn't guaranteed protection under federal law at all.

It was more obvious under the George W. Bush administration, which pledged to "ignore" state medical marijuana laws and go after marijuana users. For eight years, the federal government "subverted" the will of the states, according to the ACLU, and in the process ignored the Constitution's guarantees of state sovereignty, as many a pot user has tried to argue in court.

So when Barack Obama's new administration delivered a message on medical marijuana in February 2009, it was heard loud and clear: The federal government was getting out of the business of busting pot in California and other states where voters had approved medicinal application of the plant. Obama the candidate promised as much during the campaign, and now the new attorney general, Eric Holder, had made it so by issuing guidelines protecting those following state law. Federal policy on medical marijuana had changed.

For that campaign promise — and for pledges to end the Iraq war and reform health care — Obama won many votes from San Franciscans, including people like the 30 medical cannabis users gathered at a former brothel on Mission Street on a recent evening. The low- and no-income folk who constitute the patient advocacy and activist network Axis of Love cannot use their Medicare and Medi-Cal benefits to buy their preferred tonic — federal law makes it thus — and so they must rely on the charity of a few San Francisco cannabis dispensaries for their medicine. Pot and meals are dispensed daily, free of charge, under the supervision of activist Shona Gochenaur. "Obama got a ton of votes from our community," she says, "for the many campaign promises he made that things would change."

That the man in the White House was even willing to put "medical" and "marijuana" together in the same sentence was a step forward for California's cannabis advocates. They had endured such spectacles as the sentencing to five years in federal prison of a pair of El Dorado County providers — Mollie Fry, a breast cancer survivor, and Dale Schafer, a hemophiliac — and the DEA seizing six plants belonging to Angel Raich, who had an inoperable brain tumor. Legal outdoor growers were living in fear after an unprecedented string of DEA raids in the state's pot-producing counties in 2007. In the Bay Area, the U.S. Attorney's Office, headed in the last years of Bush's presidency by Reagan appointee Joseph Russoniello, sought stiff sentences against two brothers for running a dispensary in Hayward.

To hear Obama say change had come to California's pot users was welcome balm indeed. That Obama's DEA had raided dispensaries in Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco was an aberration, the White House said: Our guys aren't in yet.

Enforcement is still needed. There are plenty of straight-up pot dealers out there, including some unscrupulous types posing as "medical" marijuana enterprises, not to mention Mexican cartels growing thousands of plants in national forests. Exactly how many of these outlaws are getting busted, and how many legitimate, state-law-abiding operations get swept up with them, the government can't say. "We don't keep track of cases that way," says Jack Gillund, spokesman for the local U.S. attorney.

One man sitting at Axis in what was once the brothel's waiting room, declining pulls from the bags full of marijuana vapor the Axis members pass around, could tell you all about federal enforcement. If Scott Feil had the time, he'd explain how he was the first California medical cannabis dispensary owner to beat an alleged drug asset forfeiture in court, which found no wrongdoing at the dispensaries in Los Angeles and Ukiah he'd run in the infancy of the medical marijuana movement.

But he can't stay. "I've got this thing strapped to my ankle," he says by way of apology, lifting one trouser leg to reveal the homing device attached there. He is one of the Californians the Justice Department wants to put away for committing crimes for which the state of California provides business licenses.

Feil can tell you that much of what is going on at Axis is a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which neither Obama nor Holder have changed one bit. He is one of at least 74 state-licensed medical marijuana providers raided nationwide under the Obama administration. "Everybody assumes that the president and Holder were saying, 'It's okay, it's okay,'" he says. "But that's absolutely not what they're saying. Yet that's the way the public heard it. Thousands of people think that."

Put another way, "the United States government said it was okay for me to grow weed," says Tom Carter, a Lake County contractor who faces 10 years for allegedly selling 500 marijuana clones — tiny seedlings that are not counted as marijuana under state possession laws — to an undercover federal agent posing as the owner of a legal dispensary. "And now they're coming back and saying that I can't? That's bullshit."

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56 comments
nazmunnaher
nazmunnaher

We have recently begun to accept new members for 2011-2012 and walk-ins are always welcome. We have lowered our pricing and now offer a 10% discount for Veterans & Students (with valid ID) and HIV & Cancer patients. (All our TOP SHELF 1/8’s are capped at $40). Since opening our doors in 2009 our Denver dispensary has stood by our product and offered a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. http://www.tgtree.com/

sdf
sdf

If you believe in freedom, you kill cops and DEA agents. Go ahead, do something with your life.

sdf
sdf

when is this country going to get a real candidate that actually believes in change? This really pisses me off - I hope Obama cleans his act up when reelected because the sad truth is that we can't elect a Republican in and the American public is too stupid to vote or come up with a third party candidate.

jerry2919
jerry2919

With Obama you were promised hope and change. Sure looks like you got it. I proudly say that I did not vote for this liar and will not next year. God help us if he gets 4 more years.

Nschrader12
Nschrader12

prolly cuz hes black and then people would be sayin its racist to call a black man a lier. then it would blow outa proportion. He wont be pres anymore when his times up. He is smart but dont know how to run a nation and keep his words. Lies, and this so called "change", isnt what we wanted. This nation is wayyyyy to politically correct, or wrong in my opinion, it aint even funny its ridiculous.

Exquisite Corpse
Exquisite Corpse

So, why cant we sue Obama for making fraudulent claims (broken campaign promises)?

Jasond2356
Jasond2356

Talk about corruption this is the epitome of it. Let's talk about Brendan Burkhart, local Northern California DEA agent, close friends with David Garzoli, former Lake County Sheriff Deputy, accused of taking illegal helo flights on the taxpayer dime. Burkhart was in collusion with his best friend Garzoli, and former Sheriff Mitchell Lake County Sheriff. The local sheriff who was recently thrown out of office by the Lake County citizens, had a record of going after citizens in Lake County whom he thought posed a danger to him. Burkhart, is known to be a corrupt agent, who participated in the illegal Garzoli flights, which by the way were used to do fly overs on small local growers in Lake County. The connections go very very deep, and includes a number of current local and former Lake County deputies. Already the leaking of information is starting to surface in the Feil/Carter case as an example. There is a couple of snitches in the woodwork, and some how sealed court informant information is leaking out concerning recent roll-overs by snitches. It is suspected Burkhart may have a big mouth for a DEA agent, and it appears one of the snitches may as well. Time will tell on this one,But it does appear that highly improper practices are taking place. There is also information surfacing that the DEA may be protecting a snitch who has just been discovered to be a known Herion addict and distributer. This person may be the lynch pin who rolled over for the DEA to save his ass, and the DEA did not want this information to surface. I feel sorry for Carter and Feil, although I do not reside in the county, I have many connections there and some are in law enforcement. This is not BS this is the truth of this and many other DEA cases on the books right now that should not be. Good luck to all involved.

Pangolin
Pangolin

Clue, Obama is actually a moderate Republican sold to the american people by Wall Street in order to demoralize the Left. There you will find the sense in all of his actions.

Fitnotfat
Fitnotfat

You can bet the illegal drug dealers voted against legalization. Medical Marijuna is a safer alternative then many dangerous addictive prescriptions prescribed by different kind of drug dealer, this observation comes from sitting in meeting rooms for addictive personalities.

Scaredgoat
Scaredgoat

This story is important. Mainstream press doesn't want to go near this because it shows that government is allowing suckers to get sucked into industry that has no real ground to stand on. That's ok with them. They will take the taxes, property seizures, drugs to destroy (or resell). They will take penalty fees, while lawyers, prison industry also rake in the suckers' money. Atty Generals guidelines are worthless even when followed. Who does come out unscathed? Maybe those who get cozy with cops, DA, or politicians. Maybe those related to sheriff? This whole thing stinks of corruption and scapegoating.

Claude DeMoss
Claude DeMoss

Personally, I am against any illegal drug, but if the CA state law allows medical marijuna providing patients have a CERTIFIED prescription - THE FEDS SHOULD BUTT OUT!Claude DeMossSan JoseFormer Police Officer

curtis weishapt
curtis weishapt

I would urge you to look into LEAP...law enforcement against prohibition..I am against the abuse of drugs myself and prohibition only gives criminals the profit from this affliction

TheDeacon
TheDeacon

Thank you for your honest experienced opinion. I have Diabetic Neuropathic Gastroparesis (Paralyzed Stomach.) This causes Chronic Nausea & Vomiting due to eating for which there is no treatment in today's pharmacopoeia. My Family Dr & my Digestive Disease Specialist both tell me to move to a legal Medical Marijuana State for that is my only hope for Chronic Nausea and Vomiting relief. I truly am shocked that a legal dispensary would sell that junk.

scaredgoat
scaredgoat

Police seem just interested in taking cash, drugs, no matter what documentation. Many in the system smear mmj, blaming it for the crimes such as burglary, robbery, and home invasion, when it is the justice system that prevents businesses from operating safely. Banks won't allow business accounts, making security impossible and forcing cash transactions. The situation is getting worse, attracting naive, honest newcomers who are being used by illegal profitmakers, organized crime, corrupt police, you-name-it. Something should be done so that the honest mmj workers are not being run over by both true criminals and a corrupt, opportunistic justice system. Please tell Atty General Kamala Harris, don't let us be the sacrificial lambs!!

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Russ
Russ

you guys, please support Ron Paul in his next bid to become President. You will not be sorry after he gets elected. Please!

TheDeacon
TheDeacon

To those political idiots who think the Mexican Drug Cartel is supplying Medical Marijuana to Dispensaries. You must realize that the Mexicans do not have the knowledge, experience or expertise to grow the quality marijuana found in our dispensaries throughout the U.S. They only grow whatever pops up, mostly dirt Schwag that will give you a headache rather than a pleasant euphoria. Not to mention it has no or very little medical value. I'm talking brown, brick weed with stems and seeds that you don't need.

Scaredgoat
Scaredgoat

You are the idiot. Mexican weed is sold through many dispensaries. It is cheap,brown weed that sells just like cheap beer. The cartels are growing on public land in almost every county in California. Only an idiot would believe it is not being sold in legal dispensaries. They pollute land use illegal, dangerous pesticides and fertilizers. What rock have you been hiding under?

TheDeacon
TheDeacon

You are right. I do not even live in a legal state yet, just a short time left. But I travel a lot and have family in Sacramento and Davis. I have never heard of a Real Dispensary selling Mexican Schwag. Are you seriously telling me they sell that crap? That stuff is not only worthless its of no medical value as the content of THC is under 2% at best and indeed may be harmful for there is sometimes mold and/or pesticides on it. I've even seen weed that smells like gasoline because of where it was placed to bring in. To be medical it must be 10% THC minimum and contain CBD's and CBN's, etc,. Forgive my ignorance and thank you for opening my eyes. I agree with you regarding the way they treat the land and are of no good whatsoever. I honestly believed that the only weed they were capable of growing was weed that ranges from pure trash to good mid grade. But for a dispensary to sell this kind of product should be shunned if not worse. I certainly would never give them any of my money.

P0rtal00
P0rtal00

considering you lot are so dumb that you thought anything would actually change, i guess you deserve this

Tercat66
Tercat66

Wow...... How nasty can you be!! Medical marijuana is some peoples only relief from pain and cancer!! Life is so much better with an open mind!!

movementinaction
movementinaction

We at Hemp for Jobs a non-profit are working to get Hemp/Cannabis REMOVED from the Controlled Substance Act and reform the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act to reasonable levels for Non-medical use. Anything short of that and we will all still be the DEA's targets.www.hempforjobs.org or find us on facebook.James Dean Stacy former Federal Defendantread about me:http://www.nctimes.com/news/lo...

Jimmy Thome Möhler
Jimmy Thome Möhler

Watch as our rights and freedoms continue to get ripped out from under us... Fuck Obama and fuck this country.

Jedi
Jedi

No more Obama for me. I just can't stand hypocrisy... realizing that every level of government says one thing and does another... but I can continue to vote them out when they do.

I thought Obama would be different. My mistake!

Michael Bauer
Michael Bauer

You can complain all you want but the biggest opponent to the legalization of marijuana in California were the growers themselves. Also you are misinformed about encroaching on state sovereignty. I am assuming you are referring to the clause whatever is not explicitly stated in the Constitution deffer to the states? There is another clause in the Constitution called the necessary and proper clause and the interstate commerce clause which allow the federal government oversight.

Anonymous_Reader
Anonymous_Reader

Also, there's this: "The government argued that if a single exception were made to the Controlled Substances Act, it would become unenforceable in practice. The government also contended that consuming one's locally grown marijuana for medical purposes affects the interstate market of marijuana, and hence that the federal government may regulate—and prohibit—such consumption. This argument stems from the landmark New Deal case Wickard v. Filburn, which held that the government may regulate personal cultivation and consumption of crops, due to the effect of that consumption on interstate commerce, however minute it may be." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R...

Anonymous_Reader
Anonymous_Reader

Obama isn't the one in charge. Money is the boss. So-called "marihuana" is a smoke screen. Cannabis is illegal because of cellulose. Period. It produces four times the cellulose, per acre, compared to trees and takes a fraction of the chemistry to turn into paper. Cannabis is illegal to protect the interests of the tree-paper chemistry industry. Obama could easily sign an Executive Order, stopping the DEA's enforcement actions, but HE ISN"T THE BOSS. He's a PUPPET. He's a TOOL. Step N. Fetchit. The Great Black Hope is a figurehead. Money rules all. The Golden Rule: He with the gold makes the rules. Period. Read this: http://www.jackherer.com/thebo...

fedupwiththefeds
fedupwiththefeds

Every once in a while AXIS will come out of its hole hold a press release and act like they are doing something good while most of the time they sit around and vaporize while mooching off of good people that provide for them to be a bunch of BUMS!

NoReply
NoReply

Obama like Axis are both UNTRUSTWORTHY!

NoReply
NoReply

IF anyone else out there has a reply regarding how messed up AXIS is PLEASE let the WORLD know!

NoReply
NoReply

Plus her group has HARMED many a good Cannabis Activists while they get away with doing so--Axis is what it is an AXIS!

NoReply
NoReply

Shona is dispensing the stuff without a permit when everyone else is forced to have one--talk about unfair! Who in the hell does she think she is HARMING the cause this way?

robin
robin

you're damn right, its bullshit. i have to start chemo in July and im scared to death. i live in alabama so you know ive got a snow balls chance in hell. i sure wish i could move before then. but its not in the cards.what to do, what to do?

Mark Adamson
Mark Adamson

Amazing piece. Thank you for writing it. This needs more coverage.

Tess
Tess

Barack is a politician first so let us not forget that! Second, the person he put in charge is the same guy that Bush had in charge. But imho I think that in 2012 his trump card might be legalizing marijuana to get the young people to vote for him. It wouldn't hurt him to do it then because it will be his last term if he gets elected. I see the method of his madness, not a pretty one, but I have hope.

Shanon Greever
Shanon Greever

"When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny."*1“If the words “Life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness” don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”*2 "The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this."*3“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God cannot long retain it.” *4 "Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves."*6 "If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny."*1 “Penalties against possession of a substance should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of that substance; & where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use…”*7 "In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. It is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."*11 “When a private enterprise fails, it is closed down; when a government enterprise fails, it is expanded. Isn’t that what’s been happening with drugs?”*8 “It will be found an unjust & unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it.”*10 “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums but normalcy, not revolution, but restoration.” *13 Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit… unnatural?*14 "We in this country have to make up our minds -- -- we can not have it both ways: we cannot be both drug-free and free." *16 "Marijuana gives rise to insanity -- not in its users but in the policies directed against it. A nation that sentences the possessor of a single joint to life imprisonment without parole but sets a murderer free after perhaps six years is in the grips of a deep psychosis."*17 Hundreds of thousands of "jobs for American workers throughout the land.”*18 http://www.ipetitions.com/peti...

Briansays
Briansays

why should this be any different from any dozen or so policy so called spun achievements?

the overseer
the overseer

yeah a politician lied, what a surprise. shame on the masses for falling for this crap

TxGrandma Four-Twenty
TxGrandma Four-Twenty

He lied, he continues to lie and I am totally put out with him and his and Bush's puppets. The rules aren't clear, nobody in the obama admin wants to make them clear. It's continuous bait and switch. There are more of us than them.

Lightenup
Lightenup

Reading about the persecution of decent, law abiding people that has taken and continues to take place in the U.S. has angered appalled me for decades...

Weedbay Guy
Weedbay Guy

It's blatant bad journalism that the article doesn't mention raids are down 40% from the last years of Bush's administration. While the deck is still stacked against us, it's not as stacked as it was a mere 4 years ago.

SFC415
SFC415

Where are you getting your figures? Raids were at an all-time high in 2009, Obama's first year in office. http://www.albany.edu/sourcebo...

Guest
Guest

Do you realize that showing data from one year doesn't demonstrate an "all time high". Do you realize that the bureaucracies at work in 2009 were part of the Bush Administration? Do you realize that the legality of medical dispensaries doesn't make all marijuana activity legal?

Lightenup
Lightenup

Perhaps, but should there be ANY raids???

 
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