Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No More DEA Raids?!?!?!

The American medical marijuana community is practically creaming their collective jeans over a statement made by (Obama-appointed) attorney general Eric Holder at a recent press conference. Just to put things in context, here is the question he was asked:
“A second thing on drug policy: Right after the inauguration there were some raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Was that a deliberate decision by you, by the Justice Department? Is that a prediction of policy going forward? Do you expect those sorts of raids to continue? <…unintelligible…> what the president said during the campaign.”
And here is Mr. Holder’s response:
“Well, what the president said during the campaign, you’ll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we’ll be doing here in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. And so what he said during the campaign is now American policy.”
Virtually every medical marijuana proponent in the country is taking Mr. Holder’s statement as absolute truth. They are hailing his statement as a milestone, a turning point in the government’s policy toward medical marijuana. It’s official—DEA harassment of the medical marijuana community is now a thing of the past. Medical marijuana patients all across the country can now live happily ever after without fear of prosecution for taking their medicine.

And it may very well turn out to be everything medical marijuana users have hoped for all these years. Then again, maybe not. I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but I feel the need to play devil's advocate here.

Mr. Holder’s statement sounds kind of vague to me. He didn’t specifically mention marijuana in his response, though that was the question he was responding to. He can easily come back to quote what he said as having nothing to do with marijuana. A lot of campaign promises were made. Does that mean they are all “American policy” now?

Even if we are to take what Mr. Holder said in good faith, since when does a sound bite from a press conference equate to the establishment of a national policy? At least any more so than a campaign promise does. It may come as a surprise to some, but politicians have been known on occasion to say things that are not entirely truthful, especially when they are trying to get elected.

And I’m no legal scholar, but I’m pretty sure you can’t change a law by making a statement at a press conference. In other words, the Controlled Substances Act is still in effect, and marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance. So it sounds to me like our Attorney General is saying that he will not be enforcing the law. Not that I’m complaining in this particular case. But do the American people really want an Attorney General that publicly states he is not going to do his job? Surely someone other than me has asked, or will ask, this question. Does the president really want to give his opponents even more ammunition against him by appointing someone to his cabinet who openly flouts the law?  And what about when a new president is elected and a new attorney general is appointed?  What’s to prevent them from enforcing the law again? At best, this can only be a temporary solution.

Don’t get me wrong. I really hope all the optimism in response to this statement is justified. But I’ve been around long enough to have learned that premature chicken counting is never a good idea. I’ll believe what Mr. Holder said and start celebrating when something is actually put in writing (i.e., a new or modified piece of legislation) or we’ve gone a year without any further DEA raids of medical marijuana dispensaries. For now though I am, at best, cautiously optimistic.

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