U.S. attorneys in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Rhode Island and Vermont have sent similar letters in recent months, discouraging some jurisdictions from proceeding with plans to establish licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. These threats, which are backed by the Justice Department, kill any lingering hopes that President Obama would keep his campaign promise to respect the medical marijuana laws that have been enacted in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly said he would call off the Drug Enforcement Administration's raids on both medical marijuana users and their suppliers. In a March 2008 interview with Southern Oregon's Mail Tribune, he said, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." Two weeks after Obama took office, a White House spokesman reiterated that position, saying, "The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws."
In October 2009, David Ogden, then the deputy attorney general, sent a memo that seemed to fulfill this promise. "As a general matter," he told U.S. attorneys, they "should not focus federal resources" on "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."
Yet the DEA's medical marijuana raids not only have continued but are more frequent under Obama than they were under George W. Bush. Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which argues that patients who can benefit from marijuana should be able to obtain it legally, counts well over 100 raids in the two years and four months since Obama's inauguration, compared to about 200 during Bush's eight years in office. "The Obama administration really is being more aggressive than the administration of his predecessor," says ASA spokesman Kris Hermes.
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