The Obama administration has pledged to end federal interference in states that have legalized medical marijuana. But in Colorado, it has failed to call off one of its dogs.
A Coloradan who works for the president's drug-policy office is leading efforts to undermine the state's constitutional amendment allowing cannabis for medical use. On the federal dime, Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, is lobbying state lawmakers to gut the Colorado law.
Either Gorman didn't get the memo about changes in federal drug policy, or he's going rogue. Whichever the case, no one in D.C. seems to mind.
"I'm not about to stand back and let federal drug laws in this country continue to be violated," Gorman says.
Since President Barack Obama took office a year ago, the Justice Department has taken the stance that pot-smoking patients and sanctioned suppliers shouldn't be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana.
Gorman has spent years lobbying against Amendment 20, which Coloradans approved in 2000. If Obama has shifted direction on medical marijuana, the 66-year-old veteran of three administrations' drug wars obviously hasn't followed. Pot smokers are gaming the system, he complains, and addiction, chaos and moral decay no doubt will ensue. He's trying to convince lawmakers that they'd be sanctioning drug trafficking by passing a bill that would set specific rules on growing and selling pot, even for medicinal use.
"If Colorado state leaders elect to legitimize and try to regulate dispensaries, that action would be in violation of Federal Law . . .," he threatened in a memo that's being passed around the state Capitol.
"Dispensaries aren't what Coloradans had in mind when they approved the amendment," adds Gorman, who, in addition to his expertise on drugs, apparently has his finger on the pulse of the electorate.
Gorman has a contract that funnels $150,000 a year in federal money through a regional grant administered by Doug las County. Though he runs an arm of the National Drug Control Policy office in four Western states, he parses that he doesn't work for the feds.
"Technically, if you ask me who I represent, it's the Colorado Drug Investigators Association," he tells me, oddly.
That technicality exempts him from longstanding federal laws prohibiting federal workers from lobbying, he claims. Meanwhile, he's lobbying without having registered as a lobbyist, and says he's doing so with the nod of his bosses.
They wouldn't comment.
Jeffrey Sweetin, the Drug Enforcement Administration's chief in Colorado, says Gorman isn't so much lobbying as educating.
"It's not uncommon for us to weigh in at the statehouse," he says. "It's a part of the guy's job to share his expertise."
Whether for or against medical marijuana, you'll probably agree that government has no business paying functionaries to work in contradiction to its own policies.
"There's certainly something wrong when the Obama administration, on one hand, states that it's going to respect state laws, but on the other hand sends in an official to try to make those laws as restrictive as possible," says Steve Fox of the national Marijuana Policy Project.
Gorman seems curiously unconcerned about the security of his government-sponsored crusade. Drug trafficking is drug trafficking, he says, no matter what you call it.
And a lobbyist is a lobbyist, no matter which government agency happens to be laundering his paycheck.