Brock Lorber

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Holder: Obama Campaign Promises “Now American Policy”

On February 25, Barack Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, was asked about the DEA continuing raids on medical cannabis dispensaries.  His response:
"What the President said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing here in law enforcement. [...] He is formally and technically and by law my boss now, and so what he said during the campaign is now American policy."
This statement has been lauded by medical marijuana advocates as proof that the raids have ended, for now.  Assuming Holder was not joking, that certainly seems to be the message.  As a person who doesn't shy from a camera, though, it's surprising that Holder didn't elaborate.

Setting aside, for a moment, the question of how one or two people determine “American policy”, Mr. Obama has so far exhibited a mixed bag of standing by his campaign promises.  The detention center at Guantanamo Bay is closing, but the detainees are not going to be released.  The DOJ is challenging habeas petitions of Afghan detainees, and, just today, word comes that Ali al-Marri is being charged as a criminal, to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning his indefinite detention in a Navy brig (ala Jose Padilla). 

Troops aren't coming home from Iraq any time soon, and more are headed to Afghanistan.  Despite the “no taxes on those earning less than $250,000” pledge, the inflation tax is running north of 20% year over year.  The politics of fear are alive and well and “yes we can” is administration policy on everything not in the “no we can't” pile.

On the raids of cannabis dispensaries, however, it appears clear that Mr. Obama really wants them to end.  The cryptic nature of Holder's response is almost certainly due to the inability of one or two people to set “American policy”.  To provide plausible deniability against the eventual obstruction of justice charges, Mr. Obama cannot provide clear, written instructions to Holder and the DOJ.  For his part, Holder is now on record saying he's my legal boss, now, so in the absence of contravening orders, I'm taking that campaign pledge as my orders.  Voila, everybody's butt is covered.

Can you for a moment, though, imagine a DEA agent that even remotely resembles “Dime Bag” Joe Arpaio being deterred by the wishes and dreams of two beltway lawyers?  If an agent wants to take down a dispensary and a US attorney is willing to prosecute, there is not one thing Holder and his “American policy” can do about it.

As late as 2005, 98% of reported cannabis eradication in the US was ditchweed – feral hemp with little or no psychoactive properties.  Ditchweed pads the stats, but it doesn't provide any revenue.  That's why dispensaries are such a lucrative target; unarmed, flush with kind bud and cash, the dispensaries are the DEA's ATM machine, without the cost of any actual investigation or prosecutions.  Field offices are not going to give up that revenue without a fight.

Even if the DOJ were to successfully drive a determined agent out of the DEA, the police chiefs would make sure that agent was elected sheriff someplace, continuing the storied career of a veteran law enforcement officer.

The problem, of course, is that, while DOJ policy may have changed, the law has not.  And, it's worth noting, Barack Obama and Eric Holder have not been appointed President and Attorney General for life.  At best, dispensary raids are on a temporary sabbatical while the drug warriors get their ducks in a row.

So, get out there, you drug law reformers, and get those laws changed.  It should be quite a trick given the clear statement of the transition team that, “President-Elect Obama does not support the legalization of marijuana.”  I'm truly interested to see how you pull it off.

I will stick to the herculean task of convincing defendants to plead “Not Guilty!” on all drug charges.  That effort may prove easy by comparison.

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