It seems like we’ve been waiting an eternity on the Obama Administration to tell us how they will handle marijuana. Because the federal laws on marijuana differ so greatly from the states’ and those states greatly differ from one another, a medical marijuana patient, for example, doesn’t know quite where they stand in regards to the law. But lest you think the Obama Administration and the Justice Department are simply sitting behind their desks scratching their heads and trying to determine their stance on the issue, it might be smart to instead consider their “silent treatment” as their stance.
The White House is in a tough situation right now. They are being met with changing state laws all across the country—from Colorado and Washington who recently voted to legalize recreational marijuana, to a growing number of states that are laying the groundwork or already operating medical marijuana programs. Federal law, on the other hand, says marijuana is both highly addictive and dangerous; and it’s very illegal. To be dismissive of state laws and continue fighting their war on marijuana, the administration risks the support of the people and state officials. To accept new state laws, they open themselves up for persecution should legalization lead to greater teen use or a nation of potheads. Either way, it doesn’t look good.
No matter which direction the federal government takes, it will be one someone’s bad side. The “tough on crime” mentality that is also very much anti-drug would see any loosening of federal marijuana regulations as an invitation to anarchy—where reefer madness would take over and the innocence of children would be at risk.
On the contrary, failing to recognize the people’s choice in this changing war on marijuana could be detrimental to the Administration, their party, and the federal government as a whole. Currently, more than half of all Americans support legalization of marijuana. Even more support medicinal marijuana. And the majority also want the feds to back off of state laws that run counter to the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“There’s no real win on this from a political perspective,” says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser for the Obama Administration. “Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that’s popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?”
By keeping the nation in waiting, the Obama Administration is playing it safe. They can manage not to offend anyone while both sides of the argument pine for approval. This is their strategy—to not do a thing. And while we are under the assumption that they are weighing their options, with promises that a decision will be “coming soon”, federal law enforcement can continue to raid dispensaries and criminalize people who are adhering to the laws of their state—laws that were passed with the approval of citizens.