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Why is the Obama Administration Suddenly Fixated on Stomping out Medical Pot?

At the same time public support for marijuana legalization reached record highs, Obama shifted from one time medicinal cannabis sympathizer to White House weed-whacker.

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There may be a grain of truth in all of the above theories. But perhaps the greatest underlying motivator for the administration’s sudden and severe crackdown on medical marijuana providers and patients is its desire to preserve America’s longstanding criminalization of cannabis for everyone else. There is little doubt that the rapid rise of the medical marijuana industry and the legal commerce inherent to it is arguably the single biggest threat to federal cannabis prohibition. Just look at the poll numbers. According to Gallup, in 1996 – when California became the first state to allow for the legally sanctioned use of cannabis therapy – only 25 percent of Americans backed legalizing marijuana for all adults. (Seventy-three percent of respondents at that time said they opposed the idea.) Fast forward to 2011. Today, a record high  50 percent of Americans support legalizing the plant outright and only 46 percent of respondents oppose doing so. It’s this rapid rise in the public’s support for overall legalization that no doubt has the Obama administration, and the majority of America’s elected officials, running scared.

While the passage and enactment of statewide medical marijuana laws – 16 states and the District of Columbia now have laws recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic use on the books – is not solely driving the public’s shift in support for broader legalization, it is arguably a major factor. Why? The answer is simple. Tens of millions of Americans residing in these states are learning, first hand, that they can coexist with marijuana being legal! And that is the lesson the federal government fears most.

In states like California and Colorado, voters have largely become accustomed to the reality that there can be safe, secure, well-run businesses that deliver consistent, reliable, tested cannabis products. They have come to understand that well-regulated cannabis dispensaries can revitalize sagging economies, provide jobs, and contribute taxes to budget-starved localities. Most importantly, the public in these states and others are finally realizing that all the years of scaremongering by the government about what would happen if marijuana were legal, even for sick people, was nothing but hysterical propaganda. As a result, a majority of American voters are now for the first time asking their federal officials: ‘Why we don’t just legalize marijuana for everyone in a similarly responsible manner?’

That is a question the President remains  unable and unwilling to answer. And the administration appears willing to go to any lengths to avoid it.

Editor's Note: This article incorrectly said Rep. Diane Sands is from Billings, Montana. She represents Missoula, Montana. 

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).