In the summer of 2011, the Obama administration escalated the federal government’s attacks on medical marijuana businesses, most of which are legal under state laws. Why? As a matter of policy, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s raids on medical marijuana are not the policy White House staffers prefer. Many of them have had positive experiences with marijuana, and a majority of the White House staff probably thinks marijuana should be completely legal—not just for medical use. (A 2011 Gallup poll indicated that 50 percent of American adults think marijuana should be legal, meaning it’s likely that more than 50 percent of Democrats think marijuana should be legal.) So why has Obama become the worst president in the history of the country when it comes to medical marijuana?
The federal attacks on medical marijuana aren’t driven by calculated politics, nor are they driven by bigotry. Rather, the attacks are the result of Obama being a bad manager.
About nine years ago I dated a high-ranking staffer in Rahm Emanuel’s congressional office. The staffer told me Emanuel excelled at writing, public speaking, visionary thinking, the art of politics and so on. According to my friend, the only thing Emanuel was bad at was management.
When Obama was elected president, he appointed Emanuel to be the White House chief of staff, which means being the chief operating officer. The COO position doesn’t require being a visionary; rather, it requires being able to ensure that the president’s desires and mandates are delegated appropriately across the federal behemoth. But the president chose a Chicago friend rather than an exemplary manager to manage the federal government. That was the wrong move.
Nevertheless, in 2009 and 2010, the Department of Justice followed the president’s lead—just as any staff with a new boss would—and let medical marijuana flourish across the country. Unfortunately, over time the staff noticed that Obama, his chief of staff and other White House bosses weren’t holding the DOJ accountable. DOJ staffers started doing what most other unsupervised employees would do: They followed their own agendas.
DEA agents apply for their jobs because they generally want to bust as many people as possible for drugs while not getting shot in the process. Because it’s easier to bust a medical marijuana business (which advertises in newspapers) than it is to investigate a violent cocaine enterprise, the DEA guys started targeting people who dispensed medical marijuana.
The other part of the DOJ axis is federal prosecutors. They’re supposed to prosecute cases the DEA hands them, and it would be weird for the U.S. attorneys to start dismissing federal cases that involve (federally) illegal marijuana plants and illegal marijuana packages. So federal prosecutors are simply pursuing the daily grind of their cases because they don’t have bosses in Washington telling them to redirect their energies toward cases involving hard drugs.
Obama is a bad manager. He’s a visionary orator. And it’s difficult to be a visionary orator and a good manager at the same time; even our greatest leaders must have one or two flaws, right? Imagine the difficulty of simultaneously manifesting the qualities of Mahatma Gandhi and Lee Iacocca. As a result of Obama’s managerial shortcomings, millions of people afflicted with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain are suffering.
What should we do? First, whoever takes office on January 20 should issue a directive ordering the DOJ to make medical marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority for federal cops. Second, interested citizens should visit mpp.org to e-mail prewritten letters to their members of Congress, asking them to support legislation that would give states the right to regulate medical marijuana as they see fit.
Rob Kampia is executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.