Friday, February 27, 2009

Holder Statement: A New High for Medical Pot Proponents?

Medical marijuana advocates have long believed that President Obama would stop enforcing federal drug laws against medical pot users. Yesterday, they got a new high from Attorney General Eric Holder's statements on the issue:
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is sending strong signals that President Obama - who as a candidate said states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana - will end raids on pot dispensaries in California.

Asked at a Washington news conference Wednesday about Drug Enforcement Administration raids in California since Obama took office last month, Holder said the administration has changed its policy.

"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 said. "What he said during the campaign is now American policy."
I have always suspected that if Obama did anything on this issue, it would not come as a formal policy directive (such as an executive order). Holder's statement that Obama's campaign promise is "now American policy" suggests that is true.

But a lot of issues remain fuzzy. First, according to news accounts, Holder only addresses the specific question of federal raids on medical marijuana distributors, but he does not comment on the enforcement of federal law against the usage or possession of pot in other contexts. Even if the government does not conduct raids on large distributors of medical marijuana, it could still arrest and prosecute general distributors or users. Furthermore, if the anti-drug crowd goes up in flames over lax enforcement of federal law, Obama might reconsider the matter. But for now, the pot legalization crowd probably has a little buzz.


Legal-Right said...

Without a change in federal law, how can the Executive Branch simply decide that they are no longer going to enforce federal drug laws that the Supreme Court has held (perhaps mistakenly) as preempting California's legalization of medical marijuana?

I would recommend that pot smokers not get too high on this information, or they will find themselves serving time when the exec decides he needs to show how tough on drugs he can be.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Prosecutorial discretion is a pretty established concept. Prosecutors do not have mandatory obligation to prosecute violations of the law. Even when a statute had a mandatory arrest component, the Court has held that this did not create a right to protection for individuals subject to the law.

The Court case you referenced simply said that the feds COULD regulate in this area, not that they had to do so. One interesting thing about the ruling is that the liberals supported federal regulation, while the conservatives (minus Scalia) did not.

I agree that people who possess marijuana could still be prosecuted by the feds. Perhaps this decision is just keeping in line with all of the pro-states jurisprudence that the Rehnquist Court developed.

Drumbum420 said...

How are we, the readers, suposed to take a person that writes with negative slurs and a basic bias tword what he is writing? I sure dont

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Drumbum -- your message is unclear. What slur? What bias?

This blog is often argumentative and filled with debate. That's so much better than a dry presentation of the news - which you can pick up on NPR. I wouldn't call that biased coverage, but rather "opinionated" analysis. I can be persuaded (which biased individuals resist). But that does not preclude me from coming to the table with my own prior understanding of and feelings on an issue (and I suspect you do so as well).

But again: What slur? What bias?

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