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Thursday, February 05, 2009

States' rights Obama tunes down the War on Drugs

Good news. One of the hopes of marijuana reformers, libertarians and decentralist conservatives in an Obama presidency looks like it will be fulfilled. No, DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries are still continuing, but the White House is promising that, in accordance with Obama's campaign promises, its not for very long. The Washington Times reports:

The White House said it expects those kinds of raids to end once Mr. Obama nominates someone to take charge of DEA, which is still run by Bush administration holdovers.

“The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

Read the rest.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on February 5, 2009 in Marijuana reform | Permalink


Wow. Matthews hasn't made 25 posts to this story yet.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-02-05 1:54:59 PM

You talking to me?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-02-05 2:02:48 PM

I'm fairly certain Matthews = Shane Matthews, who never fails to give us a comment or score whenever someone mentions marijuana.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-05 2:05:53 PM

Public opinion will force Obama to resume the raids. Marijuana legalization does not have majority support in the United States. In the United States, law enforcement has far more resources as well as a more favorable political environment. Also, American police don't have their power as limited by the courts as do Canadian police. In addition, the American population shows strong support across the board for tough actions on crime , drugs, prostitution, and illegal immigration. Does anybody remember that Obama's position on law and order issues(death penalty, 3 strike laws) were portrayed as a mirror image of McCain's? In Canada, there is majority support for marijuana legalization. Also, there has never been a real desire for a war on crime like in the U.S. Canadians have never risen up against the judges that sentence criminals lightly. The Canadian public rolled over and let the politicians take away capital punishment. The result is paying for the upkeep of Paul Bernardo and the B.C. Pig Man. People say in Canadian polls that we support the police but don't give them any power to do their jobs. Heck in too many cases, the police are treated like the losers on Corner Gas.

Posted by: Jackson | 2009-02-05 2:20:11 PM

You talking to me?
Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-02-05 2:02:48 PM

Is there an "s" at the end of your first name, or are you Travis Bickle?

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-02-05 2:22:00 PM

I'd like to know how Obama proposes to deliver on this promise, since the Supreme Court of the US has ruled that Controlled Substances Act is constitutional. In order to remain within the law, it would seem that the CSA would have to be repealed or amended before any policy change could be enacted. It's ironic that Democrats, who have traditionally supported enhanced federal powers, should seek in this case to devolve them. Somehow I doubt the BATFE will be getting a similar makeover.

It would not be the first promise he's retreated from when confronted with legal or political realities. He's suffered several setbacks already, most notably concerning two of his cabinet nominees and the "Buy America" clause in his stimulus package.

That said, I'm a believer in state's rights.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-05 2:28:55 PM


My understanding is that as head of the Executive Branch of government, Obama has significant control over the enforcement of laws and the allocation of resources.

In fact, I don't think that he does want to repeal the CSA (which would be preferable), instead what I understand he has indicated he plans to do is instruct the DEA (and the BATFE, FBI, IRS or any other federal agency I would hope) not to interfere with medical marijuana dispensaries in California or with those people whose use, trade, or production of marijuana is consistent with state law.

As a supporter of states' rights (and the 10th amendment, I assume): do you think that the Federal government has any proper Constitutional role in policing drugs other than controlling their flow at the borders and regulating interstate commerce?

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-05 4:51:17 PM


I have to say: big deal.

Obama also signed the SCHIP expansion, which raises taxes on tobacco products -- some by as much as 2000%.

This breaks one of his campaign promises not to raise taxes on anyone making under $250,000.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-02-05 5:06:33 PM


Obama may have discretion over the allocation of resources to federal agencies, but I strongly doubt he can order his agents to stop enforcing the law. It would smack of favouritism and despotism and risk damaging his national reputation over an issue important only to two or three states that always vote Democratic anyway. It's a fairly big risk for a minimal return; a savvy politician would shy away from anything of the sort.

My point in bringing up the BATFE was that although Obama has apparently decided that the federal government has no place in controlling the distribution and sale of federally illegal products, he is unlikely to withdraw from the arena of legal products. Alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives are all legal, and all have been on the Democrats' hit list for some time.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-05 6:33:29 PM


I take what I can get and rejoice in the small victories. If Obama follows through and fewer honest business owners, sick old grannies with glaucoma, and pothead teens who have MJ prescriptions for their "chronic backaches" are crushed by the fist of the federal government, some small amount of justice will have been restored to the world. Honestly though, I'm fearing it may not be long until I'm -- gag! -- missing George W. Bush.


Perhaps you're right that this policy would be a strategic blunder for Obama. I don't think so. The socially-liberal white Obama voters probably will love it and his huge black base of support won't be put off by it either. I'm not working from polling data here, but I don't think this fairly minor policy tweak would have the effect you describe. In the many states that have passed medical marijuana ballot initiatives, the policy will be popular. In states that have not, it may be less popular, but the policy won't have much effect on them anyways. And of course Obama *can* tell agents not to enforce the law, it is only in dispute whether he will, and if so, how forcefully he makes sure they don't.

I didn't appreciate your point about BATFE when I first responded, but I'm pretty sure you're correct. I don't know whether we'll see more restrictive gun laws passed, it is a huge political liability and would drain a lot of political capital for the Democrats, but I do know that the trend towards a more militarized BATFE will continue. Also, as the medical system becomes increasingly socialized, there will be even more pressure to further tax and clamp down on alcohol and tobacco, and Obama has already proven himself willing to oblige.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-05 8:42:22 PM


Only a fistful of states have passed medical-marijuana laws (eight, I believe), and the last thing Obama needs is a reputation for being sympathetic to ultra-Leftists, which potheads and their supporters tend to be. Obama the Uniter must spread his political capital as broadly as possible or risk becoming Obama the Divider, or worse (horrors!) another Jimmy Carter. Frankly I think that's where he's headed, although it's much too early to say for certain. History tends to repeat itself, I'm afraid. If Bush is Nixon then Obama is...

Nor would it be politically wise for Obama to tell his agents not to enforce the law. That is an act more in keeping with a Third-World tyrant than the leader of the free world. After noisily reaffirming the rule of law, closing Gitmo and pledging against the use of torture, for him to turn around and start ignoring another law would be a potentially devastating flip-flop.

Far Leftist Obama may be, but the political reality on the ground will limit how far he can push things. If he proves to be another Peanuthead Republican fortunes could easily bounce. And *Christ* help if there's another terror attack on U.S. soil...

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-05 10:02:41 PM


I wouldn't think that Obama's refusal to actively enforce a law I view as unconstitutional as demonstrating disrespect for the rule of law. Perhaps that would be the popular perception, but although I heard all sorts (and I mean ALL SORTS) of complaints about Bush, I never once heard that the refusal of his DOJ or SEC to pursue the same sort of prosecutions as Clinton's was a demonstration of tyranny or lawlessness.

If Obama's FCC spends much less (or no) time prosecuting obsenity, would this also be indicative of third-world tyranny and contempt for the rule of law?

I'm still wondering about your answer to my previous question given your belief in states' rights and support of the 9th and 10th amendments:

"Do you think that the Federal government has any proper Constitutional role in policing drugs other than controlling their flow at the borders and regulating interstate commerce?"

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-05 10:20:03 PM

1. Think about what you just said, Kalim. "I wouldn't think that Obama's refusal to actively enforce a law **I** view as unconstitutional as demonstrating disrespect for the rule of law." What you think of the law is not the issue. The issue is one of jurisdiction; only Congress can pass or repeal laws. The President cannot neuter them by bullying agents into not enforcing them. Even Bush never overstepped himself that much.

2. Drug law is in a completely different category than obscenity law, so that's not really a valid comparison. The U.S. is a signatory to drug control treaties that require it to control the proliferation of banned substances within its borders; as far as I am aware, no similar treaties exist concerning the distribution of smut.

3. Since many of the drugs in question end up outside the United States, thus landing said United States in hot water concerning drug control treaties (see item 2), and furthermore since many producers supply both domestic and foreign markets, the federal government does have a role to play in the policing of drugs. ANY dealings with foreign governments are strictly federal territory.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-06 12:26:28 AM

1. What *I* think of the law was precisely what I was addressing in that sentence.

Also, here is the reasoning I'm using. Please indicate where I go wrong:

i) A president should not enforce an unconstitutional law

ii) There is no constitutional authority for the federal government to interfere with intrastate drug trade
Therefore the president should not enforce federal laws that interfere with intrastate drug trade.

2. Ok, but treaties were not what was at issue here. You said: "for Obama to tell his agents not to enforce the law [...] is an act more in keeping with a Third-World tyrant than the leader of the free world."

3. I'm on unfamiliar territory here. Which treaties has the US signed and ratified that prohibit the possession, rather than the trafficking of marijuana?

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-06 12:50:33 AM

This blog is private property, so why not ban Shane Matthews and Zebulon Pike (or at least the urls they post from)? Why give two police officers a form to promote their self-interested pro-prohibition agenda? Why keep arguing with them when they'll never change their mind? If your purpose is to turn conservatives into libertarians, why give two unrepentent statist police officers a form? They'll only slow your conversion rate.

Of course, they'll whine that libertarians don't respect free speech, but any good libertarian -- as opposed to a 'freedom when convenient' conservative cops -- knows that free speech doesn't include the right to invade someone else's stage. Further, if free speech does include the right to invade someone else's stage, that means that the state has the power to control private printing presses and free speech is as good as dead.

Grow some balls! Ban the trespassing cops!

Posted by: Robert Seymour | 2009-02-06 3:36:04 AM

1. What part of the U.S. constitution does this law break? And if the law is unconstitutional, why doesn't Congress just change it? That seems an altogether more honest way to deal with the matter than simply pretending the law isn't there.

2. The rule of law is supposed to be supreme in the U.S. and Obama is supposedly in favour of it, having ordered the closure of the "illegal" detention of terrorists in Gitmo and denouncing the use of torture. For him to turn around and ignore an inconvenient law would make him no better than Bush's enemies say he was. That's a path he'd probably rather not travel down.

3. The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which there are currently 180 signatories, including Canada and the U.S., requires domestic governments to strictly control the cultivation of illegal drugs, including cannabis. Furthermore, there was a similar convention in 1971 that bans the illicit MANUFACTURE and export of synthetic drugs such as barbituates and ecstasy, and a 1988 convention requires that governments ban the ILLICIT POSSESSION of controlled substances, including pot. All of these requirements, since they are ratified by national governments, fall under the purview of the Federal Government of the United States.

The Conventions recognize the legitimate medical uses of drugs and make allowances for that use, but marijuana is in a difficult position because, in spite of the fact that some doctors prescribe it, it is not part of the United States pharmacopoeia, having been removed in 1942. The medical benefits of narcotics are clear; the usefulness of cannabis is far less established and obscured by the intense political smokescreen that has obscured it since the 1930s. Most people, for whatever reason, cannot talk about this substance dispassionately. That's not a formula for good policy.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-06 6:32:10 AM

For all you know, Robert, the server on which this blog resides receives public funding of some sort, in which case it isn't, strictly speaking, private property. That said, even if it is, it is offered to the entire public and people are removed from it only if they violate the terms of use. Which terms have we violated?

And yes, it figures you'd have some sort of half-assed defence for your policy of suppressing opinions you don't like, just as the HRCs have theirs, the universities have theirs, and Hitler and Stalin and Mugabe had theirs. This is no "stage." The whole purpose of a stage is to provide a venue for the actors to perform in front of an audience; in this forum, the audience and the actors are the same group. To say that a cop posting here is equivalent to controlling a printing press is like saying a private citizen controls the printing press because he ran an ad in the classifieds. Your reasoning is laughable, your logic skills deplorable, your maturity level inexcusable, and your post drips with the all the bitterness of the miscreant and the loser.

By the way, I'm not a cop either. If I were I'd be running your (undoubtedly false) name and seeing about prosecuting you for spreading hate, in this case against cops. Now go play outside.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-06 6:41:08 AM

1. Most of what the Congress does is unconstitutional from an originalist (i.e. correct) perspective. Since the Constitution delegates specific limited legislative powers to the Congress, they can only pass laws which fall within those limits. Where in the Constitution is the Congress given the power to regulate intrastate drug trade, consumption, or manufacture? I haven't found it.

2.To address one of your much earlier points, I realize that it is bizarre for the Democratic centralist Obama to let this one little area be ignored by the Federal government. My reference to "States' rights Obama" was tongue in cheek. I think it would be the right thing to do to fulfill this particular commitment, but I also think it would be hypocritical. I don't know how he will be perceived by others, but Obama has already demonstrated to me that he has no regard for the rule of law when he approved of Bush's use of TARP funds (because of the "fierce urgency of now" and the "fierce urgency of kissing up to unions") to bailout the Big 3 after the legislature had refused to do so.

3. Like I said, this is not familiar ground. I'd have to look into this more, but the wikipedia page seems to suggest that

a) Of relevance to California and other med-pot states, there is a medical-use exemption

b) Of relevance to Alaska and other decrim states, there is ambiguity and significant controversy about whether personal use need be criminalized.

BTW, this blog is private property of the shareholders of the Western Standard. We can and do delete comments, ban IPs, etc. for whatever the hell reason we want.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-06 7:28:08 AM

Obama seems to good to be true. Now maybe thats because the bar has been set so low, that we expect our leaders to have no morals and change their convictions with the wind. I just hope he's less of a flag and more of a pole. As well that ups the case for liberties.

Posted by: SamT | 2009-02-06 7:55:07 AM

1. The Constitution is a construct of the Age of Reason, Kalim. You won't find anything in there about collective bargaining or airline regulation either. It's one thing to have a power not expressly granted in the Constitution because the framers did not think of it; it's another to actually *violate* the Constitution.

2. Agreed.

3. Unfortunately for the medical-use exemption theory, these "compassion clubs" have also sold product to people for recreational use, as noted by the judge in a recent ruling. (She didn't do anything about it though.) What wikipedia page are you talking about?

a) As I said, marijuana is not officially in the pharmacopoeia as far as I am aware, which complicates any medical exemption. Ambiguity and controversy are irrelevant.

b) Alaska, by the way, recriminalized pot in 2006 and I'm not aware of their de-recriminalizing it.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-06 8:28:41 AM

1. I don't think collective bargaining and airline regulation would fall under what the founders meant by "interstate commerce," so that legislation is probably unconstitutional. When any power is exercised by Congress that is not delegated to it in the Constitution (incl. amendments), Congress is violating the Constitution. That's how "delegated powers" works.

2. "Agreed." Yay, everyone's a winner!

3. I was looking at this Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_Convention_on_Narcotic_Drugs

a) If there is ambiguity, then you must make sure to supply a good case for why a certain practice violates the treaty.

b) Re: Alaska. AFAIK: "Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the privacy of the home is legal. The status of possessing an amount between one ounce and four ounces is unclear, pending clarification by the courts. Possession of 4 ounces or more of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000."

Again, ambiguity and controversy means that you must provide a compelling case that the treaty requires criminalization of marijuana possession for personal use.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-06 9:01:19 AM

attention: Robert Seymore-

you are seeking the equivelant of squeeling to the first available authority yo stop ideas you fear- calling strangers cops? at 3 am.?. maybe use more mixer after midnight-

does your wife know you use her laptop when shes at work & you have been drinking your Christmas gifts alone?

Posted by: 419 | 2009-02-07 12:13:33 PM

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