Here’s the introduction to the Slate Piece
President Barack Obama has a complicated history with medical marijuana. In his autobiography, and elsewhere, Obama frankly described using marijuana as a teen: “I inhaled frequently. That was the point.” When he was running for president, Obama famously said he wouldn’t be using federal resources to “circumvent state laws on the issue” of medical marijuana. But not long after he got into office, his administration began a crackdown on growers and dispensers in states that had legalized it. By 2012, he had publically changed his tune from 2008, arguing that not to enforce federal anti-pot statutes in states where medical marijuana was legal would be to “nullify congressional law.”
Since then, though, Congress passed a measure explicitly telling the Obama administration to cease spending funds to prevent medical marijuana providers from operating in states that have legalized it. Ironically, Obama has opted to ignore this particular legislation and continues to prosecute these cases, essentially nullifying congressional power. In so doing, the president has not only directly contradicted himself multiple times over, but he has set up a historic clash that threatens the constitutional balance of power between Congress and the executive branch, one that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
At least 24 states, plus the District of Columbia and various territories, have enacted comprehensive medical marijuana laws. Enterprising individuals in these states are the ones implementing the infrastructure around the laws by growing and dispensing marijuana to qualified patients. They invest capital. They obtain licenses and permits. But, in some cases, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Justice continue to raid their operations, take their money and marijuana, and send them to federal prison. Under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, the DOJ can prosecute medical marijuana providers for federal crimes, even if their conduct is wholly legal under state law. This is not the constitutional question at hand, though.
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