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The Oakland Paradox: Obama, Weed, and Guns

Having secured the democratic vote based on the right-wing options, Obama is cracking down on medical marijuana to appeal to new voters and maintain Big Pharma's allegiance.

 The front page of Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times contains two articles that say a lot about priorities in this country. Those two articles both deal with incidents at universities in the same California city: Oakland.

One reports on the Obama Administration sending federal agents, backed by Oakland police, in raids of facilities associated with Oaksterdam University, an outfit that provides medical cannabis services and related courses.

In the other, a former student with “ anger management issues” entered Oikos University, a small Christian school, and mowed down seven people in one of the worst shooting incidents in California history.

The lead article, “Raid on Pot College Stuns Activists,” explains that, as the search warrants are sealed, the reason for the raids are unknown. However, the background centers on interpretations of California law permitting the dispensing of marijuana for purposes of treating illnesses—under certain circumstances. It appears that there is some dispute over whether, under that law or those of other states, it is permissible for those in the cannabis trade to earn a profit.

What is more interesting than the rationale for the raids is the overall strategic decisions being arrived at by the Obama Administration. For, whether or not for-profit medical cannabis operations are justified, they are essentially providing services that the law says serve a legitimate public interest— mitigating the pain and suffering of chronic illness. And they are not “criminal” in any real sense. Richard Lee, the man behind Oaksterdam University and a related dispensary, has been in a wheelchair since a spinal injury in 1990 and uses marijuana to treat muscle spasticity.

Yet Obama has clearly made harassing those serving ill Americans with medical marijuana a law enforcement priority. Since he took office, federal agents have conducted more than 170 raids of medical marijuana operations nationally. And since October, the feds have sent 300 letters to landlords of marijuana dispensaries, threatening them if they do not evict their tenants.

Clearly, this is intended to send a message, but to whom?  If law-abiding providers like Richard Lee are forced out of business, unquestionably public access to medical cannabis treatment will be constrained. And who does that serve?

One can only think of two beneficiaries of these raids. One is the pharmaceutical industry, which is deeply worried about ways in which natural substances like cannabis could cut into their sales of more conventional cures. Interestingly, the industry has shown interest in cannabis, but on terms that benefit it—seeing huge profits in a market of FDA-approved, by-prescription, cannabinoid medicines. Outfits like Oaksterdam University are competition.

Big Pharma is an important player in elections. During the 2008 election, it dumped $16 million into federal elections, almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.  Last year it spent $150 million on lobbying in Washington. Significantly, Obama received almost $1.2 million from the industry in 2008, which is four times what it gave his opponent, John McCain.

To check out the revolving door between the pharmaceutical industry and the Obama administration, go here.  On that page, scroll down to Department of Justice, the lead entity harassing medical marijuana providers. Look at, for example, the first name, Lanny Breuer. He goes in and out of Democratic administrations, having worked in both the Clinton and Obama White Houses, and is currently at the Justice Department, where he is Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division. When he is not in government, he works for the lobbying firm of Covington & Burling, where more than half of his business comes from…. the pharmaceutical industry. Breuer is just an example—there are plenty more.