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Pierce writes: "Of all the unfathomable quirks...of the Obama Administration, its unfathomable rigidity on the topic of marijuana makes less sense than any of the others."

President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a campaign fundraiser in Denver, 05/23/12. (photo: AP)
President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a campaign fundraiser in Denver, 05/23/12. (photo: AP)

Obama's Crackdown on Marijuana

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

09 December 12


f all the unfathomable quirks - and I am being very kind, it being the holiday season and all - of the Obama Administration, its unfathomable rigidity on the topic of marijuana makes less sense than any of the others. The squishiness elsewhere on civil liberties is understandable in the context that America simply will not elect a president who campaigns on a platform of appearing to weaken the office. The crushing of whistle-blowers - and the revolting confinement of Bradley Manning - at least can be understood in that same context. (We have committed ourselves, one way or another, to voting for a president based somewhat on his more authoritarian impulses since the country elected Andy Jackson. The last president to get elected based on promises to maintain the office within its prescribed constitutional limits was James Madison, who helped define those limits in the first place.) The occasionally mushiness on corporate malfeasance is a demonstration that the president's populism has very clearly defined - and, to be entirely fair, very clearly explained - limits. All of these can be understood generally - which is not the same thing as being excused - by the fact that we elect human beings to be our president and that we have certain expectations of those humans and that office which are darker than others, and which we don't talk about among ourselves very often.

But the relentless busting of chops on ganja doesn't fit into any of those categories. If nothing else, the results in Colorado and in Washington state - and, to a lesser extent, in Massachusetts - indicate that the political salience of the "war on drugs," as applied to marijuana, at least, almost has completely evaporated. It can be argued that there is no more political risk to the president of changing his policy on marijuana now than there was in his "evolving" on gay marriage last year. In both cases, the people out in the states are out ahead of the national politics of the issue.

But, as we learn in today's New York Times, in a story by national-treasure Charlie Savage, rather than avail itself of the freedom to maneuver it was granted by the results of statewide referenda last month, the administration instead is reacting to those results by getting even tougher.

Even as marijuana legalization supporters are celebrating their victories in the two states, the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts. Marijuana use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol. Some law enforcement officials, alarmed at the prospect that marijuana users in both states could get used to flouting federal law openly, are said to be pushing for a stern response. But such a response would raise political complications for President Obama because marijuana legalization is popular among liberal Democrats who just turned out to re-elect him.

A little further down in the story, we get a glimpse of at least a piece of what is really going on, a real-life response to the warning of Governor William J. LePetomaine from Blazing Saddles: "Gentlemen, we could lose our phony-baloney jobs over this."

In reviewing how to respond to the new gap, the interagency task force - which includes Justice Department headquarters, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Department and the offices of the White House Counsel and the director of National Drug Control Policy - is considering several strategies, officials said. One option is for federal prosecutors to bring some cases against low-level marijuana users of the sort they until now have rarely bothered with, waiting for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because the drug is now legal in that state. The department could then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state one. A more aggressive option is for the Justice Department to file lawsuits against the states to prevent them from setting up systems to regulate and tax marijuana, as the initiatives contemplated. If a court agrees that such regulations are pre-empted by federal ones, it will open the door to a broader ruling about whether the regulatory provisions can be "severed" from those eliminating state prohibitions - or whether the entire initiatives must be struck down.

Yeah, there's the entire private and public infrastructure that has grown up to service the "war on drugs." People have gotten quite rich and quite fat over the periodic pointless frenzies into which the country hurls itself. Reputations and fortunes have been made, and that's not even to get into the criminal empires that have sprung up, and the underground economy that services them, because we didn't learn fk-all from the last failed Prohibition experiment that we talked ourselves into. There are a lot of people, cops and criminals and everyone in between, who have a lot to lose now.

Even given the first part of the blog's First Law Of Economics (Fk The Deficit) does it strike anyone else that embarking on either one of these strategies - but especially, the second one - is a profound waste of money at a time in which we're quibbling over how much cat food we are going to allow our seniors in exchange for (maybe) pushing the top rate up to half of what it was after the JFK tax-cuts finally got passed? And, after three decades of wasteful spending, truncated personal liberties, and feckless cultural hysteria, we are now preparing to throw that much good money after that much bad? This is not just bad public policy, because its such an obvious waste of time and resources. And this is not just bad politics, because the president is blowing an opportunity to correct the obvious waste of time and resources, and to do so in a direction in which the country is already moving. This is completely freaking nuts.

I mean, seriously, are these people high? your social media marketing partner


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+130 # Califa 2012-12-09 16:54
"I mean, seriously, are these people high?"

No, they are not high. Therein lies the problem.
+67 # universlman 2012-12-09 18:28
This is like his standing still on another burning issue; fossil fuel in the atmosphere.

I agree with Pierce that now is high time for some decisive moves. However, Obama seems to have little heart to fight for these issues regardless of their appeal to the growing bulge of younger voters.
+47 # 666 2012-12-09 19:55
Obama's having a spaz over this because it threatens his authoritarian powers... it's a "gateway drug" ya know: first people get high, then they expect to use the internet to criticize government and think for themselves. that's the threat.
+2 # 2012-12-10 20:14
Yes 666 today Guns & Roses, next MJ & Gays, tomorrow Opiates ^& LSD, then Drug warsb and superglue patching.
+3 # Johnny 2012-12-09 21:22
Right. Obomber's heart is with the multinational mafia that made him president. Why should Obomber care about "issues" and "voters?" His masters bought him all the public opinion on "issues," and all the "voters" he needed to become president.
0 # 2012-12-10 20:18
Because thet might prove God was yellow wasn't she. Give you a sexy, blond, Asian FlOTUS & Potus or Lesbotus otherwise?
-2 # 2012-12-10 20:10
One mans meat is another mans poison.
+42 # jon 2012-12-09 18:47
Call the White House --

-96 # 2012-12-09 19:19
Poor Charles Pierce, Esquire must be the extreme acedemic nut or low educated leftist to believe thepeople know best what;s good for the whole Nation.

These are the samke ones who want guns in every house soa father can accidentally kill his son getting into a car, and crime can become the worst in the WQorld.
That same who demand Atomic war to push their religions on the world.
Theones who wanted whaleoil then didn't. The ones who want fuel and carbon problems then don;t.
Can they not be guided by the wiser heads who tell of the problems of nicotine (My own health suffers my addiction to that) and alcohol (I loved that till personality evils and Gout woke me up) can we not learn from Scientific proofs and street violence?

Charles Pierce, Esquire ( I Guess you add the Esq, to feel more important without lots of honors and titles) how about you try a little reality for a change.
Have a good day and Think more of your advice to the boss you chose in Democratic voting to know best for the majority of the Nation.
-5 # noitall 2012-12-10 02:00
Esquire just means he's an attorney. No big deal there. Can't swing a dead cat without hitting one nowadays.
-85 # 2012-12-09 19:21
PS: Doesn't even deserve proof reading or spell checking to tell you you are wrong Charles Pierce, Esquire, ADD, PSQ, TTB and Gentleman Sir dubious.
+46 # MidwestDick 2012-12-09 19:45
Charlie writes for Esquire magazine.
Are you kidding or have you been watching too much Fox?
This article is too serious, thanks for lightening it up. And for lighting up, too.
-5 # 2012-12-10 20:22
Midwick yes probably Watching forx or RSN leftist brainwashing me to a diminishing IQ and senile decay without the Gunja boost for mid-life crisis..
+68 # imaginum 2012-12-09 19:43
You called it. The lot-to-lose-ers are running the show. They're not interested in taxing the trade and lowering the price when they are making the trade (controlling at least) and financing black budgets with it, not to mention the super-performin g prison industry trough that is overflowing with riches.
The Fed Govt has recently acquired patents on medical marijuana that will be handed out to top dogs/highest bidders when/if it is legalized. The money always lines 'em up real nice.
Only when a quid pro quo treaty of sorts with the biggest illegal players (which includes the CIA and DEA) will the Feds relent. The hogs that feed on it now still gotta feed, see? It's a deal in the making, fer chrissake. That's real history.
+62 # skeptick 2012-12-09 19:47
Follow the money.
+5 # foghead 2012-12-10 06:32
Quoting skeptick:
Follow the money.

EXACTLY!!!! Check out the following link:

The secret is simple - they're trying to patent it just like they did with the opiates from a few years ago.
+23 # GerryBD 2012-12-09 20:01
Charles, with the greatest of respect, I'm not sure if you're trying to be disingenuous with this article. You writing for RSN, not the New York Times, or Time Magazine. Surely you are aware of the intricate link between keeping street drugs illegal at the highest level, and the way this enables the supply demand-ratio to be managed for the purposes of greatest profit. Oil, then arms, then illegal drugs -that's the order of the biggest businesses in the world. Check out the scholarly work of retired Professor Peter Dale Scott. As a starter watch

The quote you have in your article is a surfacing sample of the mainly hidden working interface between President Obama, and the deep politically corrupting power of those who run the show behind both major parties. Of course the quote makes no sense, within the terms of reference you choose to write in. However, in the context of the real-but mainly hidden- world of connection between Federal intelligence agencies, "illegal" drug supply, and political corruption, you quote makes perfect sense. If weed becomes legal, that could mark a change in societal attitude from the carefully maintained "criminal" frame, to maybe "treatment", as a response to drug taking. Where's the money in that?

I suspect you know all this Charles. Again, with the greatest of respect, call a spade a bloody shovel. We need articles that name what is going on, not ones that create a false sense of mystery.
+29 # lorenbliss 2012-12-09 20:04
The Obama Administration' s war against marijuana users -- Obama the Orator again shape-shifting into Barack the Betrayer -- is understandable as part of the surrender to Christian fanaticism he acknowledged by choosing Rev. Rick Warren to give the 2008 inaugural invocation.

Warren's appointment was an endorsement of fundamentalism that -- though seemingly contradicted by the president's stand on gay rights -- is proven by his betrayal of women's reproductive rights and his expansion of Bush's tyrannical "faith-based initiatives."

But nowhere is the president's fundamentalist bias more obvious than in his vindictiveness toward marijuana users.

The fundamentalists fear marijuana because it is said to open its users to spiritual experience that reduces Christianity to absurdity. Christian fanatics thus call marijuana "devil weed," claiming it invites possession by "the Whore of Babylon" -- the Christian pejorative for the Great Goddess, aka Mother Nature or Gaia, humanity's first and oldest deity.

Acceptance of the Goddess is often revolutionary, symbolizing rejection not just of Christianity but of patriarchy, capitalism and its destruction of our environment. To the One Percent, nothing is more subversive. Hence marijuana use is secretly viewed as a facilitator of heresy and outlawed accordingly – another example of our subjugation by zero-tolerance theocracy.
+13 # Human Right 2012-12-09 20:23
Four years ago we voted for Obama & change
What they got was a president who took the entire defense department bureaucracy of a previously discredited administration into his administration inclusive of the Generals, Secretary of Defense and all the rest ( this has never happened before); then gave us more phony war. While president Obama was receiving the “Nobel Peace prize” he simultaneously and successfully defended the architect of torture in a San Francisco federal court. In addition, he sidetracked attempts of the ACLU to remove the illegal overseas prisons and never gave even a feeble attempt to close the infamous Guantanamo prison. He has never tried to return our revered habeas corpus or remove the immoral, illegal, Patriot Act. As this is written he has placed ill advised military intimidation and economic sanctions over innocent Iranian people and continues to fund the illegal Zionist settlers three generations removed from WWII, (many from New York) in the Middle East. Recently Obama signed a law (National Defense Authorization Act) making the “Patriot Act” permanent and the USA is now officially a military/police state with the habeas corpus long gone. Now after being “reelected” Obama encourages the Ashkenazim mafia to murder more Palestinians.
+20 # ganymede 2012-12-09 20:31
I tend to take a very optimistic view on what seems to be the impending legalization of MJ. Obama had to do what he did to get elected, and I feel there will be a gradual deescalation of the prohibition against MJ. Obama is aiming to be a president like Lincoln (see the film), and he will probably evolve into a great reformer helping us to move into a better future. Also, the legalization of MJ will be the final nail in the Republican Party coffin. I know that some Conservatives smoke, but most don't and are in general denial of necessity for positive change. Evolution isn't just about dinaosaurs, it's about the unstoppable force of human evolution. A little MJ will help these rightwingers open up to themselves and others.
Contrary to the intense propaganda we've had for the past 50-60 years, MJ is an enormously beneficial substance. Medical MJ, when it's really used for medical purposes works better than most of the dangerous pharmacueticals on the market. Just ask anyone who's used it for various sorts of chronic pain or people who have cured themselves of glaucoma, and the list goes on. I've been using MJ for the 40 years as a stress reducer and I'm 75 years old and in near perfect health. I even found out by experience that MJ is very effective in reducing high blood pressure.I stopped smoking MJ for about 6 months and my blood pressure suddenly went up. Started smoking 3-4 times a week and blood pressure went back to normal-good diet and exercise/yoga help too!.
+18 # LML 2012-12-09 20:56
"But such a response would raise political complications for President Obama because marijuana legalization is popular among liberal Democrats who just turned out to re-elect him."

What complications?! !!
He has been re-elected -- and now that he does not need us anymore, he can ignore the liberal Democrats with impunity -- and follow his corporatist dreams....
+5 # Johnny 2012-12-09 21:19
Hard to believe Charles Pierce is so naive. The same mafia that bought Obomber his election profits from keeping the price high. Just shows how stupit "liberal Democrats" are, if they ever thought Obomber cared a damn about the interests of the people in the USA, or any interests other than the multinational syndicate that made him president.
+9 # futhark 2012-12-09 22:14
As a former frequent and heavy marijuana user, Mr. Obama must be aware of its negative effects on productivity, memory, and ambition. It has be observed that all human populations in which a significant portion are excluded from opportunities for advancement and deprived of the just fruits of their labors resort to some kind of anesthetic drug. Mr. Obama himself has attributed his use to stresses in the breakdown of his family. If we really want a drug-free society, a better approach would be to provide support and opportunities for personal and social betterment, rather than making drug users outlaws. Rather than taking this humane and reasoned course, Mr. Obama seems to be appealing to the same old "war on drugs" mentality that has been failing for more than a century.
+7 # engelbach 2012-12-10 13:35
Marijuana is not a drug, unless you consider alcohol and tobacco to be drugs.

Marijuana's benefits far outweigh its so-called negative effects. Mild usage does not impair memory or coordination, and its relaxing effects can make one less stressed and more productive.
+6 # cordleycoit 2012-12-09 22:17
Obama has struck me all the way though his first four years a closet authoritarian and also he has all the personality of the classic narcissist personality bath in his own or stolen glory depending on how you look on the man. He smoked it happly until he got in the public eye now he wants to jail kids.
+7 # BeaDeeBunker 2012-12-10 01:20
Did anyone happen to catch Sunday nights episode of 'The Mentalist' on CBS?

It had to do with super MJ seeds developed by a young botanist, who is later found dead. He worked, in secret, for a tobacco company who was planning for the decriminalizing , and eventually the legalization of MJ, along with plans to distribute nation wide.
So, if a major media giant okays a fictional story line, can the real thing be far behind?

Follow the money as you wish, but the outcome is still going to be that when it comes to business in America, the 'customer' is always right.

First came medical MJ. Then came State laws 'legalizing' MJ. If there is legit money to be made from a Federal okay of MJ, the 'money people' will find the way to get it's the American Way; we are blessed that way.

In the meantime, don't Bogart that joint; pass it on, dude!
+11 # Romesh Bhattacharji 2012-12-10 01:34
Every 19 seconds there is a drug arrest un the US of A. Most of them for cannabis. This keeps many police and enforcement officials employed. They have hoodwinked Obama into thinking that they are saving Amnerica.

Do you seriously think that they would give up such easy employment?
+6 # Terry5135 2012-12-10 06:48
Quoting Romesh Bhattacharji:
Every 19 seconds there is a drug arrest un the US of A. Most of them for cannabis. This keeps many police and enforcement officials employed. They have hoodwinked Obama into thinking that they are saving Amnerica.

Where does the faith in Obama come from? Whenever bad things happened to the French in the 17th, early 18th century - which was all the time - from officials, they believed forever that King Louis XIV could not have known. They loved their king and believed firmly that he certainly would not allow officials to do these awful things if he only knew. We are still enamoured of royalty and it runs so deeply that it permeates every relevant thought without our even realizing it.
0 # Hey There 2012-12-13 00:03
leap stands for "law enforcement against prohibition"
+2 # Milarepa 2012-12-10 01:48
Da man wants to look good, that's all, so - zero tolerance. Only thing is he's getting old and tired. And he wants to keep the drunk-driving kill rates up. How about this, Obamy: marijuana doesn't kill, YOU do.
+5 # Rascalndear 2012-12-10 02:57
Mr. Pierce, it is quite understandable if you remember that the first duty of most politicians is to distract voters from serious issues. That's the only explanation for this. Focus on grass and ignore grassroots issues, the fundamentals, like jobs, taxes, healthy food, privacy and personal freedom...
0 # Hey There 2012-12-13 00:06
well said! I'd give you 100 pluses if I could.
+8 # Wyntergreen 2012-12-10 03:19
You know, I feel the same way about the legalization of pot as I do about gay marriage. They're both inevitable, so why the delay? It seems like there is a fairly large portion of our society that's going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Come on, it's the 21st century, for crying out loud!
+14 # Pancho 2012-12-10 03:53
I think the answer to why the Obama administration has come to this is just two words: Erik Holder

This is the guy who never met a billionaire he didn't like. The one who can't prosecute his predecessor once removed for perjury. The one who has appointed or retained scoundrels such as Harley Lappin (at the BOP) or Stacia Hylton (at the USMS).

He's been on a war against weed since he was a prosecutor in DC in 1996.

The difference between him and Ashcroft is that he hasn't been trying to clothe statuary.
+11 # Terry5135 2012-12-10 06:49
Quoting Pancho:
I think the answer to why the Obama administration has come to this is just two words: Erik Holder

Eric Holder serves at the pleasure of the king. And the king in turn at the pleasure of the owners.
0 # Hey There 2012-12-13 00:09
love it. We need a little humor here after the serious stuff is said.
+11 # Mrcead 2012-12-10 03:54
Please. The one crop that is actually more useful than corn and is far more abundant just so happens to be the America's #1 targeted illegal substance.

When the "reasons" don't quite fit the actions and responses, someone is lying. Pot is almost impossible for a government to control economically but as an illegal substance that needs to be controlled by legislation and force, that's big business. Bigger than corn. More people in jail over marijuana than for violent crime - something is wrong with that. Legalized pot would have saved Hostess. We pay to house inmates folks. Hint, hint, wink, wink, make it legal, put crooked gov't types out of business.
+11 # Milarepa 2012-12-10 03:56
Mr. President, you're a Wall Street type of guy, right? I don't have to tell you there's profit in marijuana. Big bucks? So what's REALLY holding you back? The private prison industry?
+16 # brenda 2012-12-10 04:33
Here's the immediate problem. For many hurting people, medical pot is a great pain reliever that doesn't upset the digestive system from not being able to go to the bathroom. Cancer patients also find it absolutely harmless to the body but great for their chemo side effects. Now there can be medical pot growers that could supply non-herbicide coated, non-fungus infected, non-chemical additive enhanced pot. So now Obama wants to have all the medical patients arrested? Let's get real. Pot has been around a long time, and even today there is nothing has been substantiated that proves pot harms the body. But I can see how all the liquor and pain pill manufacturers want to keep it illegal because it will cut into their business. Plus it will keep people out of jail or the Children's Welfare Department from taking one's kids away because of owning a little medicinal stash.
+11 # Terry5135 2012-12-10 04:55
Why do so many intelligent and well informed people have this notion that things can be done to convince Obama of anything in this matter? One might as well be trying to convince Hannibal Lector to eat sensibly. Pharma has been busy for a long time developing synthetic, sometimes concentrated, and/or natural marijuana treatments and a number of companies already have applications into the FDA at this time. Yes, criminals and law enforcement and private industry loses with decriminalizing weed, but most importantly Pharma loses - billions. And Pharma owns Obama, period. I can't understand that this, at the very least, did not become patently obvious back when Obamacare was being developed.
+3 # RobertMStahl 2012-12-10 06:23
Maybe, just maybe, this relates to the movie, "Who Killed John O'Neill?" The drug lords, obviously tied at the hip to all sorts of nefarious games, like the making of snuff films, are what Indira Singh called them out on. The drug lords have done away with here. Don't fall for the Old Guard and their means to an end where power is obtained. Learn to learn (Gregory Bateson).
-1 # DRPJJ 2012-12-10 08:42
Perhaps if he makes a stand on something "inconsequentia l," he can get something he really wants passed?
0 # Milarepa 2012-12-10 09:20
Scout's honor, Mr. President, have you never ever even taken a puff? Of course not. That's why you were known as Scaredy-cat in Hawaii. Well, you showed 'em, din't cha?
+7 # suzykoch 2012-12-10 11:49
Yes, follow the money, in it's multi layered glory, all the way to it's laundered repository, our biggest Wall Street Financial Institutions, and of course, to all the stopping places along the way - from the Drug Lords, to the our weapons manufactures, soldiers, DEA,the private prison corporations and the people they employ, the justice system and the police. They are all taking a cut of the action, because it is illegal. This is why Obama is not looking forward, but back when it comes to marijuana laws. It is similar to all of his policies and efforts from supporting the fossil fuel industry at the expense of doing something about climate change, the prosecution of legitimate whistleblowers, the killing of innocent people in many lands (against International Law),letting the criminals of the financial industry off the hook, while talking about cuts to human needs, and the rounding up of more than a million immigrants, destroying lives and the flives of their families in order to feed the private prison machine. It is all of a piece, and no matter how much Pierce tries to rationalize some of these policies, prosecutions, wars and assasinations because of "the electorate", it really boils down to money and who runs this nation and the world. We need to stop fooling ourselves about Obama being progressive.
He is for war in it's many forms, including "the war on drugs" which includes a massive war on the poor and black and latino youth in this country.
+3 # GerryBD 2012-12-10 14:21
Quoting Terry5135 "but most importantly Pharma loses - billions". And suzykoch, "They are all taking a cut of the action, because it is illegal." The rest of what both of you have written is so right on! RSN, please engage writers who are bold enough to tell Americans what's really going on. The guts of what's being said here is easily substantiated. Like mould that lives off that which it is smothering and killing, this underbelly economy can only only thrive when it is kept out of the light of the public. Expose expose expose!!!!
+8 # marigayl 2012-12-10 13:26
Let's not forget that marijuana is also hemp. One theory holds that ganja was criminalized at the behest of the lumber industry that wanted no competition from hemp, with all its many applications as the raw material for fabric, paper, fuel, and on and on. Soil-replenishi ng hemp can grow like a weed in soils where such soil-depleting crops as corn and cotton cannot. Once marijuana is universally legalized hemp will effectively compete with big lumber, big oil, big plastic, big cotton, etc, etc. Many greedy people, not just the drug lords and corporate prisons, stand to lose if our so-called civilization returns to humanity's ancient exploitation of hemp.
0 # Michael_K 2012-12-10 18:55
O'Bomber the Betrayer... just his usual M.O.
0 # Milarepa 2012-12-11 04:06
Go for it, Mr. President, we won't tell.
+1 # DIAMONDMARGE 2012-12-11 18:33
Obama is making a first-class a---- out of himself on this one.
+3 # DerHermanator 2012-12-12 11:50
Mankind has always had recreational drugs. Remove the farce of "medical marijuana" [we dont have "medical alcohol"] and finally legalize, tax and EDUCATE and treat people as responsible. Pot is not without is liabilities - as is water excess.

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