Obama’s mistake

Pub date May 8, 2012

By Gabriel Haaland and Laura Thomas

Last month, Obama came out swinging against medical marijuana in an interview, defended his raids of law-abiding clubs, and is currently positioning himself to the right of former President George Bush — despite the fact that nearly 75 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.

In Northern California, Melinda Haag, Obama’s US Attorney for the Northern District of California, is resolutely determined to shut down medical marijuana access. Her district starts in the Bay Area and runs up the California coast to the Oregon border. Ironically, her district may have the strongest support in the entire country for medical marijuana, from voters, law enforcement, elected officials, businesses, and community members. Why is she so obsessed with shutting down the clubs? She claims that it’s because she is protecting the children of California. Really. So the next time someone is dying of cancer and they don’t have legal access to medical marijuana, we will be sure to remember that the children of California are safe. And let’s be clear: She is going after regulated clubs and the idea of a regulated industry — regulations that communities, sheriffs, Boards of Supervisors, and health departments have built.

Haag is targeting community leaders, such as Richard Lee, the chief promoter of California’s effort to legalize marijuana, and Oaksterdam, the area where most of the medical dispensaries are in Oakland. She also shut down Mendocino’s ground-breaking regulation of marijuana growers — literally driving past illegal grows to one recently inspected and certified by Mendocino sheriff’s deputies. She subpoenaed Department of Public Health records used to issue licenses for dispensaries here. She is going after dispensaries in San Francisco that are in full compliance with local and state law, merely because they are within an arbitrary distance from a school or park, even if the park is unused, or the school opened after the dispensary did.

Her actions are not protecting children from the harms of marijuana. She states that dispensaries attract crime, which is not proven by any evidence. What does cause crime is the black market, especially the black market for marijuana imported from Mexico, where 50,000 people have been lost in prohibition-related violence. The less people can produce, purchase, and consume marijuana grown here in California, the worse things get for Mexico. She also seems oddly concerned about the evils of capitalism, worried that people may be making a living from the medical marijuana industry. While we may not be the biggest fans of capitalism, we don’t think closing small businesses (or even large ones) in these economic times is a great idea. Haag’s actions have put thousands out of work and eliminated tax revenues for localities and the state. She’s using taxpayer resources to make the local economy a little bit worse. Thanks.

In San Francisco, elected officials including the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the district attorney, the city attorney, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, State Senator Mark Leno, the Democratic County Central Committee, and most recently, Democratic Congressional Leader Nancy Pelosi, have all spoken out against Obama’s efforts to undermine legal, regulated medical marijuana in California. The San Francisco Chronicle has run not one, but two editorials in the last month on the topic, plus a column from conservative columnist Deb Saunders. There have been rallies, protests, petitions, meetings, and letters asking her to stop going after medical marijuana.

What will it take to get Obama to wake up to the fact that his effort are not supported by three quarters of the country and that, in particular, Melinda Haag is obsessed with shutting down any regulated medical marijuana business? She is making things worse: leaving patients to the black market to find their medication, undermining law enforcement efforts to work with medical marijuana producers, and exacerbating the violence in Mexico.

But instead of reining her in, Obama is doubling down one of the most popular causes in America.. Medical marijuana is far more popular in the U. S. right now than Congress, the president, or Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The most serious moment at the Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC last week was when comedian Jimmy Kimmel asked Obama point-blank why he was going after medical marijuana. None of it makes much sense. How much evidence is needed to convince Obama and Haag that their actions are creating harm, not eliminating it? How much evidence is needed that this is not what the voters and taxpayers want? What kind of data do they need that regulation reduces crime? How many patients need to tell their stories? What will it take to change her actions?

And when will Obama wake up to the fact that he is making a huge mistake? 

Gabriel Haaland is a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. Laura Thomas works with the Drug Policy Alliance.