President Obama finally came out and said it. It's about hot damn time. While the statement "We're not going to be legalizing weed…anytime soon" is the one that's catching all the headlines, it's the sentiments that lie behind it that the medical marijuana community ought celebrate rather than castigate. As a matter of fact, it's quite possibly the very reason he needs to stick around for another term.
While at face value this may seem as an absolute knock on the positive strides that the medical marijuana community has made over the past several decades, I argue that it is the absolute opposite. All he (a man facing a general election for President of the United States) did with this statement was to finally come out and acknowledge the progress that medical marijuana has made over the past almost two decades. As a matter of fact, what is happening is what is quite consistent when it comes to government and their responses…they're just now catching up. To illustrate, let's go on further into the Rolling Stone interview that these statements came from. Not far apart from the legalization sentence sat another in which he addressed his original statement during the 2008 election drive where he said he would not "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana." Here, President Obama said "What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana."
Accurately and fairly, Obama went on to clarify by stating that “I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.’" He's right. He cannot do that. He can make recommendations, but he cannot flat out tell the Justice Department not to enforce Federal laws. No President has the authority to do that. Combating that is an extremely complicated and lengthy process, one that we got a small glimpse of during Obama's overhaul of the health care system, one that is currently being heard in the Supreme Court. The process of clearing the way for a more balanced approach to medical marijuana must begin with the reclassification of cannabis from Schedule I, and this can only come in one of two ways: either through a change of heart by the DEA, or, more likely, through legislation, meaning, it would have to pass through Congress. What Obama said next is of utmost importance. "What I can say is, ‘Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.’ As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.” Read that sentence again, especially the part where he states
"go after things that are really doing folks damage."
With this very simple statement, Obama, in his trademark sly and presidential way, basically said that marijuana itself is not damaging. It's the way we've gone about it that is damaging.
In the same Rolling Stone interview, he states that "The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, ‘This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way,’" which, as much as we in the medical marijuana community might not want to admit it, is a very valid point. And quite honestly, that should do nothing less than motivate medical marijuana businesses not to take advantage of their position, not to put themselves in the position of being blatant opportunists and mindless capitalists that will sell to anyone and anything, and rather, help legitimize the medical movement itself. Read his statement again…"a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users."
The one thing we need to hammer home here is that Obama is clearly stating that marijuana is medicine, and furthermore, he has no problem with it being administered and handled as medicine. But no one, even the medical marijuana community, can dispute the fact that it's not completely handled as medicine, and this is where the Feds have a problem. With 'medicine' names such as "Earwax," "Armageddon," and "Purple Nightmare," it's no wonder there's a bit of backlash on what we're trying to do. It's equivalent to calling Viagra the "fuck pill" or "the Ron Jeremy" or referring to Valium as the "Chill Pill" or the "Couchlock." It's not going to fly. So in his subversive sort of style, President Obama is basically giving us the roadmap of what we need to do and the steps we need to take to make un-harassed medical marijuana a reality. All we have to do is climb out of our little bubbles and listen. If all it means is changing a few names and getting away from schools, isn't it worth it!? Heck, he was willing to go as far as to say "I do think it's important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws."
At one stage, there was something to be said for power in numbers…but when Los Angeles County alone now has an estimated 2,400 medical marijuana dispensaries, it becomes harder to argue that these sorts of operations are necessary. As an editor of a medical marijuana publication, even I cannot deny that this sort of thing is hurting our cause more than it's helping it. I mean…2,400!? Heck, there aren't even that many CVS or RiteAids combined in the entire country (Editor Correction: in the states that have medical marijuana initiatives)! That is nothing short of blatant opportunism…the very thing that the Obama administration seems to be targeting. After all the recent hoopla and headlines in our industry, especially since the rogue moves by Southern California U.S. Attorney Laura Duffey and company, I can't help but see the Obama administration as one that's helping the medical marijuana community by pushing it into the direction it needs to be in order for the Federal government to take notice of it as a legitimate part of the healthcare and medical industry, and not just as a joke with sensationalist names and claims. I mean, what scientist or medical professional or lawmaker is going to listen to the argument that "Platinum Cheese" and "Electric Banana Kush" is a legitimate treatment or possible cure for cancer and multiple sclerosis? Would you?
But again, it's natural to test the waters, to see what you can get away with before you have to pull back and be a bit reasonable. And perhaps, that's where we're at. Perhaps, the medical marijuana movement is finally coming out of its adolescent phase and maturing into a full-grown young adult, learning the ways and methods of navigating the world and the way it is and how to mold it into the world we'd like it to be. Maybe that's where we're at: the point where we stop passing off everything our parents say as rubbish and realize that, well, there was some real shit buried in there. After all, in just the past 30 years we've gone from a president that stated "I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast” (Ronald Reagan), to one that's now willing to say that they will not "prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana." Take a step back and realize what a huge step that is.
While "we're not going to be legalizing weed…anytime soon," at the very least, he's setting the groundwork for it and advising, as best and subtly he could under the circumstance of being President of the United States, the direction that we, as the medical marijuana community, ought go in. The most important part of it all is that it's all based on our efforts.
"Anytime soon?" Perhaps not. But with 16 states and our nation’s capital already having passed medical marijuana initiatives, and several more on the way, soon will only get closer.
"When will then be now?"
Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz couldn't have put it better.