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What's Up With Obama's Cynical Approach to Medical Marijuana?

mcwow

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The previous ten presidents were staunch prohibitionists. Meanwhile, Obama has taken the federal hand off the scale quite a bit.

In October 2009, the Justice Department declared that prosecuting medical-marijuana users and caregivers who clearly comply with state laws was not a wise use of its resources. That declaration has dominated public perception of President Barack Obama's policy on the issue-minimal progress, but is a welcome improvement on his predecessors.

In reality, however, the Obama administration has attacked medical-marijuana providers on several fronts. Since January 2010, it has staged more than 90 raids on dispensaries and growers, according to figures collected by the patient-advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. That represents a pace double the Bush administration's, says ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. The administration has also threatened state officials with prosecution if they participate in licensing or regulating medical marijuana. The Internal Revenue Service has expanded auditing dispensaries for tax evasion, on the grounds that drug-trafficking enterprises cannot legally claim business-expense deductions.

In April, ASA gave Obama an F for his policy on medical marijuana. He's "no better than Bush," says Hermes.

Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws calls that stance "hyperbolic." "The previous ten presidents did nothing," he says. Obama has "taken the federal hand off the scale a wee bit."'

Most notably, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have revised regulations to acknowledge the use of medical marijuana.

For example, although federal zero-tolerance laws prohibit illegal-drug users from living in public housing or receiving rent subsidies such as Section 8, HUD has given local housing authorities in states that allow medical marijuana the discretion to not evict users.

Still, St. Pierre worries that the combination of raids and IRS harassment is seriously endangering medical marijuana. An unfavorable court decision regarding the IRS audits "could end medical cannabis," he warns. "They're going the Al Capone route."

The VA is the bright spot, says Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Although it still forbids its doctors from recommending marijuana, and possession is illegal on VA property, last year it changed its regulations so that medical-marijuana use is no longer an automatic violation of "pain contracts"-agreements patients sign in which they state that they're not going to abuse their prescription painkillers.

In practice, Krawitz says, some VA doctors still refuse to accept medical-cannabis use, but "the feedback I've gotten from veterans, especially Vietnam-era veterans, is that it's the first time the VA did something because it's the right thing to do. Vets really appreciate that."

Overall, he says, "I'm just completely baffled by what the administration is doing. They're using the DEA and the IRS, but they're trying to look like they're not going after medical marijuana."
 
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