Saturday, October 8, 2011

Because the DOJ has nothing better to do...

One of the truisms of American politics is that no politician is as interested in libertarianism (civil or otherwise) as (s)he pretends to be. Otherwise they wouldn’t be interested in being part of the government, right? And I’m not talking here about the garden-variety Republican hypocrisy of claiming to want smaller government while sticking the elephant’s nose into health care decisions and underwriting certain forms of religious expression while seeking to prohibit others. Nor is this about the equally preposterous Democratic claims to personal liberties while pushing for a national ID card or cranking up the silliness required to board a flight. No, this is about the betrayal of what really are the tattered remains of core values in both parties.

Thus, the Crown Prince of Small Government, Ronald Reagan, not merely (almost) tripled the national debt, but did so largely by having federal spending reach as high as 23.5% of GDP (Jimmy Carter never reached 22%; wild-eyed spendthrift Obama in 2010: 23.8%). That’s also how Barack Obama’s Justice Department is being even more stupid than their predecessors with respect to medical marijuana.

I am not a lawyer, so I’m not going to try to interpret the intricacies of the law, but I’ve been told by a really smart man that I “know something and can read.” I know, if nothing else, that justifying the federal ban on medical marijuana, even when states allow it, based on the interstate commerce clause is insane. It was when I wrote about it in 2005, and it is today. Whether there are other legal grounds for upholding federal jurisdiction, I don’t know. But I do know that in a time of scarce resources, a program which alleviates pain for some of the citizenry, generates tax revenues, and would cost a bunch of money to shut down ought to stay around because of inertia if nothing else.

This is not the time to re-visit the old arguments about whether medical marijuana is a good idea or not. But it may be time for a reminder that proponents of states’ rights generally mean that Alabama ought to be able to discriminate against minorities despite the US Constitution, not that Californians ought to be allowed to have medical marijuana when that same Constitution (as read by anyone with an IQ above their shoe size) specifically tells the feds to butt out.

More importantly, the time is definitely ripe to look at the arguments being made in favor of this stupid and wasteful initiative. Here’s a good chunk of the announcement by Melinda Haag, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California.
More than 40 years ago our elected federal representatives determined that various substances have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in the United States. Based on these findings, Congress passed laws making it unlawful for people in this country to manufacture, cultivate or distribute various drugs, including heroine, MDA, LSD, and marijuana, among others.
In other words, the fact that there now is an “accepted medical use” is irrelevant, at least until the Congress does something about it. I’d comment further, but I can’t improve on the wisdom of the great Mark Twain: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
Many in the marijuana industry have portrayed the Oct 2009 Department of Justice guidance as giving a free pass to any marijuana business that invokes state law or calls its customers patients. That was frankly never correct.
Precisely. If it is a violation of California law, prosecute it… or, rather, assist California in prosecuting it. But Californian authorities, not a US Attorney, get to decide what violates California law.
In the Northern District of California marijuana cultivators are converting our public lands and pristine forests into large-scale clandestine marijuana grow operations. They are cutting down trees and plants; they are diverting streams, polluting the water table, and the land with toxic pesticides. They are starting wildfires, bringing in undocumented workers from Mexico, some of whom may be the victims of human trafficking. Many of these workers who guard the grow operations do so with firearms, thereby endangering hikers who might unwittingly stumble in.

[And when the growers are through] they harvest their crops and leave behind literally tons of trash, unused pesticides, hundreds of miles of plastic piping, camping equipment and human waste…
Then maybe you ought to… you know… go after them for: unauthorized use of public lands, pollution, vandalism, littering, reckless endangerment, smuggling, immigration violations, hiring violations, weapons charges… and maybe, just maybe, you could just go ahead and do that without making a speech about it.
Even under California law, marijuana cultivation is supposed to be not for profit. What we are finding is that people are using the cover of medical marijuana to make extraordinary amounts of money, in short to engage in drug trafficking. And many of these drug trafficking operations are in plain sight. In many communities, like mine, you can't walk a mile without seeing multiple retail marijuana stores, sometimes surrounded by fences and patrolled by security guards. If you sit and watch for a moment, you see cars pulling over, seemingly young healthy people jumping out of the cars, running into the store, and emerging with paper bags full of marijuana.

Some of these operations allow their customers to smoke marijuana while on the premises. Presumably at least some of them get back into their cars and drive away impaired. There’s a reason for the security guards and fences; where there's marijuana there's money and lots of it. These places are prime targets for robberies and violence...
Again, prosecute, or help California to prosecute, these people. If they’re actually “drug trafficking,” arrest them. The fact that I think marijuana probably ought to be de-criminalized (at least) doesn’t change the fact that people are currently breaking the law and endangering other people. So do something about the real law-breakers. But don’t do this:
[Because of limited resources] I have decided to focus initially on stores that sell marijuana and allow people to smoke marijuana very close to schools, parks and other places where children learn and play.
Would someone please knock it off with this utterly phony concern for children? There are lots of things wrong in the lives of America’s kids, but being in the proximity of a medical marijuana dispensary doesn’t make the Top 100 list. I presume the California law authorizing medicinal use of marijuana says something about proximity to schools and parks. If it doesn’t (and an article in the not-exactly-leftist Wall Street Journal suggests precisely that), then you, Ms. Haag, are a moron of the first order. Even if it does, I shudder to think about what some over-zealous cop (there’s another kind?) will make of “other places where children learn and play.” This fuzzy-mindedness isn’t merely an example of perverse priorities, it veritably begs to be abused.
Last week we sent letters to the landlords and lien holders of these stores, putting them on notice that marijuana is being sold and used on their property in close proximity to children and that the operations must cease. I understand that there are people in California who believe that marijuana stores should be allowed to exist. But I trust these same people would all agree we don't need marijuana retail outlets across the street from playgrounds and schools and little league fields.
Actually, no, I wouldn’t agree, for the reasons just noted. And I sure as hell wouldn’t agree that landlords and lien holders ought to be threatened with prison sentences of up to 40 years. Those are goon tactics, throwing your weight around simply because you can. If someone is doing something really illegal, or really likely to undermine the safety and stability of a community, stop them. But unless your goal is to make the Obama administration look like right-wing caricatures of it, you need to stop with the absurd threats against those who have done nothing wrong. And that would include all the other stupid stuff your colleagues across the country are doing. Quoting the MSNBC article:
•In Colorado, which also allowed medical marijuana, the Treasury Department is requiring that banks close accounts of legal medical marijuana businesses.
•The IRS says dispensaries may not deduct standard business expenses such as payroll, security or rent. “The result will be closure of the most well regulated dispensaries and loss of millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments,” the group stated.
•The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives last month ruled that medical marijuana patients sanctioned by states cannot legally possess firearms.
Seriously, are you people insane? You can’t come up with a higher priority than hassling people who are obeying state laws, especially when you’ve pretty much indicated that you weren’t going to be doing anything drastic.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance puts the situation this way: “Barack Obama is betraying promises made when he ran for president and turning his back on the sensible policies announced during his first year in office.” The extent to which Mr. Obama is personally responsible for this misguided policy initiative is unclear. That it reflects poorly on his administration is not.

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