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Pot Politics

The president bobs and weaves in discussion of marijuana enforcement
OBama POT-US: President Obama talked a good game about relaxing federal prosecutions over medical marijuana, but he has yet to follow through. U.S. Government Works

When I moved in to a new apartment a few months ago, I forgot to change the address for all of my magazine subscriptions. It was a paralyzing mistake for someone too lazy to fix it by picking up the phone (but not too lazy to type about it). Among the list of periodicals currently floating in the U.S. Postal Service ether is my bi-weekly Rolling Stone.

It wasn't until this week I realized I missed the magazine's Q&A with President Obama. The questions mostly danced around standard election-year issues, but one query's focus fit perfect for this space: the War on Drugs.

In his first four years in office, Obama has signed off on an absurd increase in raids on medical cannabis collectives-more than the number that took place in G.W. Bush's administration-despite vowing he wouldn't "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.'

"What's up with that?' asked Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone's publisher.

"I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana-and the reason is, because it's against federal law,' Obama responded. "I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, 'Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books.' What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.' As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.'

This, of course, is bullshit. Exactly where will medical cannabis patients go if collectives can't continue to operate without U.S. Attorneys looking to put more pot club pelts on the wall?

What struck a higher chord of hypocrisy in the interview, though, was Obama adding, "I do think it's important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws.' He might has well have added " in about six months.' The idea any real debate will occur until Obama has four more years is a pipe dream.

"One of the things we've done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine,' Obama continued.

Going from pot to powder cocaine or crack in the same breath is exactly what's flawed with the federal government's controlled substances classification system, and why marijuana needs to be dropped from Schedule I, where it resides in the same class as heroin and LSD.

"We've had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue,' Obama said. "I think that's an appropriate debate that we should have.'

It's a topic former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara has nothing to lose by tackling now, and he raised it just this week in the Wall Street Journal's letters section.

"Prohibition causes the huge profits enriching crooked officials and violent criminals,' McNamara wrote to the paper, "and the government causes great harm when it puts millions of Americans in jail to protect them from themselves.'

In an election year, it seems, self-preservation is even more prevalent.