Apparently unable to find a legitimate or honest defense for his administration’s behavior regarding medical marijuana, President Obama instead resorted to a lie to Rolling Stone about what the law actually says. From his recent interview with Jann S. Wenner in Rolling Stone:
[Wenner] Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?
[Obama] Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.
This is an outright lie by Obama about federal law regarding medical marijuana. Drugs are governed under the Controlled Substance Act, and the important thing is that this law explicitly gives the executive branch the power to unilaterally change the legal status of particular drugs. Obama wouldn’t need to “nullify congressional law,” because he currently has the legal power to change marijuana’s classification.
Marijuana is categorized as schedule I, which means it legally has no accepted medical use. This is why medical marijuana, while legal under some state laws, is illegal under federal law.
However, the law explicitly gives the executive branch the power to change the scheduling of particular drugs without needing Congressional action. Obama can instruct the relevant agencies under him to take an honest look at the research and reschedule marijuana so it qualifies as having legitimate medical uses. The Obama administration could easily and justifiably move marijuana to, say, schedule III, which happens to be the same schedule that synthetic THC is in, making medical marijuana legal under federal law.
There would be nothing unusual, extraordinary or legally suspect about Obama doing this. The executive branch has often moved certain drugs to lower or higher schedules based on new data without Congressional involvement. In fact, multiple sitting governors have petitioned the Obama administration asking him to move marijuana to a lower schedule, so he should be aware of the flexible authority he has.
Obama is not some hapless victim whose actions on this issue are constrained by congressional law. The truth is pretty much the exact opposite. Under current law Obama effectively has the power to unilaterally make medical marijuana legal. Obama is not legally forced to wage a war on medical marijuana; it is something his administration is actively choosing to do.