2008 Opening Pandora’s Stash Box
posted by May 12 at 10:59 AMon
I haven’t posted much on Slog about drug policy in the 2008 election—because it hasn’t mattered yet. Early in the donkey race, Obama and Clinton bickered via their spokespeople about the crack-cocaine sentencing reforms, they took wimpy positions opposing medical-marijuana raids, and presses slipped pages about Obama’s support for marijuana decriminalization (he later recanted). But both Democratic candidates fell short of any bold position to strong-arm the DEA or legalize pot—or directly debate the issue—lest they give the GOP ammunition in the general election. I mean, imagine the GOP attack ads: “Barack Obama said we need to decriminalize marijuana, but do you want more drug addicts in the hallways of our schools?” But now the Democratic primary is essentially over. And drug-law reform is an issue in presidential politics—starting today.
An article in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle prods the candidates on medical marijuana, the one drug policy reform that holds wide support across the electorate.
In response to recent questions from The Chronicle about medical marijuana, Obama’s campaign - the only one of the three contenders to reply - endorsed a hands-off federal policy. “Voters and legislators in the states - from California to Nevada to Maine - have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering,” said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
“Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice - though he believes medical marijuana should be subject to (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) regulation like other drugs,” LaBolt said. He said the FDA should consider how marijuana is regulated under federal law, while leaving states free to chart their own course.
McCain will eventually be forced to answer the same sorts of questions. In Michigan, which the GOP is now eying as a swing state, a medical marijuana initiative is on the fall ballot. Polls in Michigan last month show 67 percent support, and national polls over the last 15 years show 75 percent support.
In years past, candidates could skirt the issue by saying they opposed raids on sick folks but conceding that federal law trumped the state law so it was a moot point. But last month the federal pre-emption argument took a potentially fatal blow when Congressman John Conyers, chair of the Judiciary Committee, fired a shot across the DEA’s bow. His five-point letter (.pdf) asks the DEA to justify raids on dispensaries in California, where medical marijuana is legal, and Conyers writes, “before I consider holding hearings, I want to give you the opportunity to respond to these complaints.”
This sets up a federal struggle over medical marijuana for the next six months, and groups backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, using tactics like these, won’t let the issue disappear on the campaign trail. If McCain refuses to take a stand to protect sick and dying folks in states with medical pot laws, it could swing states like Michigan against him. And if McCain does come out for the wheelchair weed, in a year the GOP is trying to wear a face of solidarity, it could make drug-policy reform—for the first time—a bipartisan national issue in a presidential election.