Good news... but you can't put it in your pipe and smoke it

The White House released a memo to federal prosecutors and top DEA executives today that told them not to prosecute medical marijuana users so long as they were in full accordance with conflicting state laws. A breath of fresh air for marijuana activists, and one of the things I thought Obama could realistically do to make his presidency suck considerably less.

But, similar to his empty words on every other promise he has chosen not to break outright, this is pretty empty. As a first policy initiative, it's fine, but if it is not followed by real change it is a limp carrot next to the deadly stick of the Drug War. Things it doesn't do:
  1. Prohibit federal prosecutors from prosecuting cases... it just makes it a low priority
  2. Prohibit the DEA from investigating and permanently seizing property of suspected drug users without actually charging them with a crime
  3. Make the people who use or sell medical marijuana lawfully any less vulnerable to the next rex publius
  4. Similarly, it does not make the actions of users and sellers legal - things they do now even if prosecutions cease for a few years can still be used against them in court down the road

The ruling seems nice enough, but it essentially estabilishes precedent that the Drug War is completely at the favor of the whims of the Executive. If it goes to the Supreme Court, it will be struck down as both a legal defense and a policy measure, because it essentially tells the DOJ and DEA to ignore Congress. In other words, it is typical of Obama: it is a nice propaganda measure with no teeth, the unintended consequences will probably end up being worse for those who support it than the status quo, and he will probably stand pat and consider his job done now that he's given a flowery statement.

It need not be terribly damaging politically either - Obama could simply introduce a bill with edits to existing drug bills that essentially suborns federal regulation to state regulation in drug cases when the two are in conflict. It could be pushed as a state's rights issue and would likely have a sizable number of Republican co-sponsors. This is pretty weak, and dangerous, if the administration does not follow it up with an actualy policy or legislative push.

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