Pro-marijuana groups, others mixed on meaning of Obama's apparent marijuana-friendly comments
December 14, 2012
Wes Woods II , Inland Valley Daily BulletinSome local medical marijuana advocates see good things coming from President Barack Obama's comments that prosecuting recreational marijuana users in Colorado and Washington state should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement.
Obama told ABC News' Barbara Walters last week that law enforcement has "bigger fish to fry" than the recreational users in the two states, which legalized marijuana on Election Day.
The attorney for Aaron Sandusky, who was convicted in October of operating medical marijuana dispensaries in the Inland Empire, said he will use the president's words at his client's sentencing on Jan. 7 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
"I will get a copy or try to record the interview tonight and show to the judge that federal policy is not pursuing medical marijuana or marijuana that's been legalized in certain states," said attorney Roger Jon Diamond.
Obama didn't comment on how the federal government would respond to new laws that officials from the two states are tasked with creating to regulate commercial pot sales.
"It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view" to focus on drug use in states where it is now legal, Obama told Walters.
Sandusky opened G3 Holistic in Upland in November 2009, six months after Obama, in a well-publicized interview with the Oregon Mail-Tribune, said the federal government would not aggressively pursue medical marijuana cases in states that had legalized it.
"I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," Obama said in March 2009.
Despite his statements, the Obama administration increased its enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, which makes it illegal to sell or possess marijuana. This includes states that have legalized marijuana.
Sandusky was president of Upland-based G3 Holistic, a medical marijuana dispensary, which, in California, is legal. But in October, however, Sandusky was convicted in federal court of eight counts related to growing, possessing and intending to sell marijuana for profit.
Obama's statement "should have an impact, a positive impact, for both medical marijuana and also Aaron," Diamond said.
Diamond said Judge Percy Anderson will be given Obama's statement during Sandusky's sentencing hearing.
Anderson would not allow Diamond to introduce evidence in support of Sandusky related to Obama's past statements about legalized medical marijuana. Sandusky was also barred from even mentioning the president in his testimony.
"In fact, the president made that statement the first time in 2008, and Aaron relied on that," Diamond said.
"Hopefully, the judge will consider his position once we show him the interview that will be shown to all the viewers of the country. It's just not fair to single out people arbitrarily for prosecution, especially when a nationwide announcement is made."
Christopher Kenner, a former patient at G3 Holistic Inc. in Upland, said he is wary of Obama's statement to Walters, but remains hopeful that it will have an effect on Sandusky's sentencing.
"I'm hoping he's being truthful this time and is going to stop these prosecutions," Kenner said. "I'm hopeful that he understands that by arresting these people he is messing with patients."
Kris Hermes, spokesman for Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, said he had heard this type of political rhetoric before.
"It's incumbent on the Obama administration to show good faith in this regard and not say one thing and do another, as we heard both before and after the 2008 election," Hermes said.
"In other words, he can say all he wants at this point, but what's going to matter most is what the U.S. attorneys do and what the Drug Enforcement Administration does."
Paul Chabot, founder of Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition, said the statement by Obama speaks volumes about his true feelings.
"I think the bottom line is we are really concerned because Obama has said on social issues that his opinions have evolved," Chabot said.
"For example, gay marriage. We hope that the president isn't going to evolve his opinion and say that drugs should be legalized."
Amanda Reiman, the California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that if the Obama administration does respect voters' rights in Colorado and Washington and allows them to use marijuana, it has a positive effect on California medical marijuana cases.
"You could say why are you respecting state law in Washington and you're not respecting state law in California? Reiman said.
"Right now, we don't have that. The administration doesn't respect state law anywhere."