Although the fight to federally legalize medicinal marijuana is far from new, supporters hope President Barack Obama's administration will be more favorable to their cause than previous leaders, they said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to crack down on cannabis dispensaries in California, one of thirteen states that has legalized medicinal marijuana, according to a Feb. 7 Boston Globe article. However, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said the new administration is reviewing the federal policy toward medical marijuana.
"Obama has said it succinctly during his campaign and has expressed almost an embarrassment that these field agents did the arrests," he said.
The federal government historically carries "bizarre reefer madness when current research shows otherwise," St. Pierre said.
"Currently 70 million people live in a state that lets them use cannabis as a pain reliever," he said. "Massachusetts will vote for it in two years, and they will say yes, but it's hard to say when the tipping point has been reached."
Randy Barnett, a lawyer who has represented Californian medical marijuana advocates, said this policy change is long overdue but he is unsure if the administration will follow through.
"I am not optimistic that the Democratic majority will be any better on this issue than the Republicans," Barnett, a former Boston University law professor who currently teaches at Georgetown University, said.
Obama recently chose Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, an act which St. Pierre said is a favorable step for NORML's cause. John Walters, the current "drug czar," is a social conservative notorious for his stringent marijuana policy, St. Pierre said.
"Mr. Walters didn't even want to acknowledge the existence of medicinal marijuana," St. Pierre said. "Mr. Kerlikowske has had to regulate the Seattle Hemp Festival and implement the 'law enforcement priority' placing marijuana as a low concern behind other drugs."
Groups advocating for strict drug policy view Obama's stance as hypocrisy, they said.
"The President took an oath and promised to protect the 'laws of the land,'" President and Co-Founder of Dads and Mad Moms Against Drug Dealers Steven Steiner said. "Federal law prohibits the use of marijuana.
"Obama is sending the wrong message by showing a more lenient stance on marijuana," Steiner said.
Those in favor of more lax marijuana laws are exploiting other people to reach their goal, Steiner said.
"Advocates are using sick and dying people for their cause," Steiner said in reference to medicinal marijuana advocates. "In reality, there are reports linking the drug to disease, including testicular cancer."
BU American Civil Liberties Union President Ryan Menezes said he disagreed.
"Medical marijuana use is a victimless crime," Menezes, a College of Communication senior, said. "Science, not politics, should guide American medicine."
BU political science professor Christine Rossell said she has seen a shift in opinions around marijuana, but does not credit Obama.
"Views around marijuana started changing long before he took office," she said.
College of Arts and Sciences junior Kerry Molloy said she does not see anything wrong with legalizing medicinal marijuana.
"If it helps with certain kinds of pain, why not?" Molloy said. "However, out of everything going on, if Obama doesn't get to it, so be it. I'm more concerned about getting a job after graduation."
By Lilia Stantcheva
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The Daily Free Press