Obama, Romney, Marijuana and Colorado

Above: Mitt Romney on marijuana in May, 2012

Below is a clip of Romney in 2007, "I believe marijuana should be illegal in our country." He says cancer patients don't need marijuana, "there are other sources of pain management that work entirely effectively. He says marijuana legalization "is the wrong way to go. We need less drugs in our society" and "I would oppose the legalization of marijuana." [More...]

More Romney in 2007: Marijuana is a gateway drug, "I don't want medical marijuana...Don't open the door to medicinal marijuana."

Yesterday, Matt Taylor at Salon wrote that President Obama's position on marijuana could cost him Colorado in November. I wrote about Obama and the Colorado marijuana vote last month after reading a Reuters article on the topic, noting that in Denver, a city with 600,000 residents, one of every 41 residents has a medical marijuana card. Denver has 400 medical marijuana dispensaries. Consider that Starbucks has only 350 coffee stores in the entire state.

Salon's article focuses on former (Republican) New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, a long time marijuana legalization advocate, now a Libertarian candidate for President, and suggests that Johnson's candidacy and voters' opposition to Obama's enforcement efforts, might result in Romney carrying the state.

I disagree. If Romney takes Colorado, it won't be because of marijuana reform voters. They know Romney, like most Republicans, is far worse on drug war issues. But the article does present both sides, and I think these quotes offer the better assessment:

Whether it helps Obama or hurts him, the pot issue certainly won’t play to Romney’s advantage in any direct sense. The guy is the archetypal narc, a Mormon who harangued a neighbor for smoking on the beach outside his mansion in San Diego and impersonated a police officer more than once as a young man, playing pranks on his friends by pulling them over with a siren mounted on his car.

“People who turn out for Amendment 64 are very unlikely to pull the lever for Romney,” says Aaron Houston, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

As to Johnson, Wanda James, a 2008 bundler for Obama who runs a marijuana edible business, tells Salon:

I think a lot of people are trying to support Gary Johnson, but it’s the wrong move right now....We'll be cutting off our nose to spite our face if we allow Romney to win this election, because it would be the end of the marijuana industry. At least under Barack Obama there is some pretense for the industry to exist.

The Salon article concludes with:

If he fails to budge on pot between now and Election Day, Obama will effectively be wagering that Willard Mitt Romney is so terrifying to the pro-pot community that its voters will choose the devil they know over the one they don’t.

I think that's a safe bet. Coloradans and drug war reformers in particular aren't stupid. We may face two devils, but Obama, is by far the lesser evil and presents the lesser threat.

In the 2010 Governor's race in Colorado:

Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican Dan Maes both oppose legalization. American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo supports it. “Legalize it. Regulate it. Tax it,” Tancredo said at a debate last week in conservative Colorado Springs.

Tancredo, a former Republican, needless to say, lost to Hickenlooper by a huge margin.

I think this article by Joshua Green is more on the mark.

I think Coloradans will vote to pass Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization measure on the ballot in November. Its time has arrived. It's no longer a partisan issue here. The initiative is supported by many Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents.

Salon writes "The surprising about-face [of Obama] has inspired former supporters in Colorado to try to legalize the drug outright." That's not accurate in my view. While former Obama supporters may support the measure, it's been in the works for years -- way before Obama came on the scene -- ever since Denver legalized personal marijuana in November, 2005. It is not on the ballot because of anything Obama did or didn't do. It's on the ballot because drug war reformers from many diverse groups, such as SAFER, Sensible Colorado, NORML and Marijuana Policy Project, have worked their tails off the past 6-7 years to get it there.

For example, SAFER Colorado announced plans for a state-wide legalization measure in December, 2005. More here. Coloradans rejected the measure in November, 2006, and SAFER and other groups made plans to reintroduce it. This all pre-dates Obama by years. In 2006, only 37% of Coloradans supported legalization. Today, in large part due to the hard work of these groups, more than 60% of Coloradans support legalization.

Also consider, Romney supporters are among the prime opponents of the current legalization measure:

Two-thirds of the entire the budget for the “No on Amendment 64″ committee has been provided by a Florida-based nonprofit called “Save Our Society From Drugs.” The organization was founded by Betty Sembler, a veteran Drug Warrior whose husband is on the Mitt Romney for President finance team. According to one biography of Sembler, she has been awarded an “honorary agent status by the DEA” and was pivotal in founding drug rehabilitation clinics and the Drug Free America Foundation. From 1976 to 1993, the Sembler family operated a drug rehabilitation clinic known as STRAIGHT Inc., which closed down after a shocking series of scandals that revealed that clients faced rape, faced beatings, forced hunger, and other abuses at the clinics.

Still not convinced? Here's Romney blowing off a medical marijuana patient in a wheelchair in 2007.

If you think the times have mellowed him, you're wrong. Here he is in 2012, "I'm in favor of the law not allowing legal marijuana."

Here's what Amendment 64 in Colorado provides:

Amendment 64, otherwise known as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, makes personal adult use of marijuana legal, establishes a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, and allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp. This measure will appear on the Colorado ballot during this year’s presidential election– which means that history will be made at the polls on November 6, 2012.

I have no expectations Obama will ease up on the War on Drugs. But since we know that Republicans will keep escalating it, just as they will our over-reliance on incarceration, the choice in November on this issue is clear: Obama.

As to Gary Johnson, his Libertarian positions are in large part good ones. I hope they get a lot of exposure. Personally, I think Reuters has it right that he will siphon votes from Romney in Colorado, not Obama. It's more persuasive to me than the Salon article. And keep in mind,

The Libertarian Party has never made much of an impression on a presidential campaign. The high-water mark for the party was 1.1 percent of the vote, achieved in 1972. In the last presidential campaign, former Georgia Representative Bob Barr topped the Libertarian ticket and received 523,000 votes.

Romney and Obama aside, if you live in Colorado, make sure you register and vote for Amendment 64. The full text of the initiative is here. Help make Colorado the first state in the nation to legalize personal, adult use of marijuana. It's time. It matters.

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    In Oregon we will be voting on Measure 80. (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by caseyOR on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 12:20:34 AM EST
    If it passes, Measure 80 will legalize the possession, sale, cultivation and distribution of marijuana, hemp, hemp oil and all other products derived from the marijuana plant. It provides for taxing marijuana as well.

    Medical marijuana is already legal here, and MM cards are very easy to get. There is the usual gnashing of teeth over just how easy it is to get a MM card, but no concrete action to limit it, much to the dismay of the editorial board at The Oregonian, the state's largest daily.

    In fact, support for Oregon's MM law was a major factor in this year's Democratic primary for Attorney General. Dwight Holton, a former U.S. attorney, who was considered a shoo-in at the start of the campaign, lost to former judge Ellen Rosenblum in large part because of her support for the MM law. Ellen got around 60% of the vote.

    Since the election, the man who was AG resigned and Governor Kitzhaber appointed Ellen to the post. So, she goes into the November election as the sitting Attorney General.

    The Repubs failed to field a candidate in the primary. So Ellen's opponent in November will be a GOP write-in candidate. If supporters of Measure 80 turn out in numbers that should bode well for Ellen's election and vice versa.

    Is federal law enforcement enforcing fed. (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 01:09:12 PM EST
    law re mj in Oregon?

    Yeah, somewhat, but (none / 0) (#12)
    by caseyOR on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 03:54:01 PM EST
    so far none of the big raids of MM dispensaries that we've seen in other states.

    Even Dwight Holton did not propose ending MM. He wanted to tighten up eligibility ( it is very easy to get a MM card), come down on the doctors who seism to pretty freely issue MM cards and restrict those who grow MM for the card holders.

    And the new U.S. Attorney has not said anything of note about MM and enforcement of federal law.

    It does seem that the local U.S. Attorneys have quite a bit of say over just how forcefully federal marijuana laws are enforced with regard to MM.


    Our city voted overwhelmingly to tax MM (none / 0) (#13)
    by nycstray on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 04:20:43 PM EST
    (we seriously need $$$), so what happens after that, they (Feds and the PC, who I think just retired) just can't seem to stop raiding the places and our revenue stream . . . One place has been hit 3x.

    Oh Please... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 09:11:44 AM EST
    ...Romney is worse than Obama, sure, but not on MM.  They are the same tools, there is no difference on this one topic from Romney's rhetoric to Obama's actions.

    And I gotta say, Obama has proved he is to the right of where GWB was on MM, ramping-up raids on legal business and using the IRS to bankrupt legitimate business out of business by denying them the same tax advantages as any other business.

    I have no expectations Obama will ease up on the War on Drugs. But since we know that Republicans will keep escalating it, just as they will our over-reliance on incarceration, the choice in November on this issue is clear: Obama.

    This statement is false through and through and you should be ashamed acting as if Obama hasn't been escualating the war on MM.  You wrote an entrte post comparing the two without a single instance of how Obama is better, only that Romney is worse.

    Kevin Sabet, former senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy:

    "They've always known that they were violating federal law, and in most cases, state law as well. When you have organizations that want to legalize all drugs as the main backers of these so-called `compassionate use' efforts, the pieces of the puzzle come together quickly,"

    Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project:

    "Obama has gone from being the greatest hope for marijuana reform to the greatest disappointment, and is now officially the worst president in terms of interference with state medical marijuana laws,"

    Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.):

    "It would certainly be nice for the attorney general and the president to clarify the federal policy, currently it's largely at the behest of the regional attorney deputy general."

    Barney Frank:

    "Obama now lags Pat Robertson in a sensible approach to marijuana."
    "I'm very disappointed, they look more like the Bush administration than the Clinton administration."

    From Politico:

    All told, the federal government has raided more than 100 dispensaries -- with the most recent busts of a San Francisco Bay area marijuana training center. Obama has vowed more money to hunt down Latin American drug traffickers, promising an extra $200 million in a 2011 press conference with El Salvador President Mauricio Funes. He's kept in place Bush administration anti-medical marijuana administrators in key administration positions.

    Above quotes from HERE.

    And let's not forget who the head of the DEA is, Michele Leonhart, who is a Bush holdover.  Here is her outragous testimony to Congress about marijuana.   "All illegal drugs are bad."

    She can't even say heroin/meth is worse for ones health than marijuana.


    The following organizations are calling on President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Ms. Leonhart.
    -California NORML
    -Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
    -Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
    -Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)
    -National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
    -Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

    In January 2009, she(Leonhart) refused to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to cultivate marijuana for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative law judge's ruling that it would be "in the public interest" to issue the license.

    She is no friend of marijuana anything, as proven by the continued raiding of state legitimized businesses, using the IRS to bankrupt MM dispensaries, refusal to answer basic drug questions, and overall anti-marijuana philosophy.

    So Romney might be worse on many fronts, but this is one where he and Obama or nearly indistinguishable.

    I can't say I know what... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 09:30:22 AM EST
    the hell Barney Frank is talking about, Bill Clinton hired Gen. Barry F*ckin' McCaffery as his drug czar and ramped up the war on marijuana at a then unprecedented scale.  8 awful years on this issue.

    otoh, Gary Johnson has been on the right side of the issue for 20 years, in and out of office.  God forbid anybody vote for that guy;)


    It is sad to think we are not going to get (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by ruffian on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 09:53:21 AM EST
    and political relief from any aspect of the war on drugs in the foreseeable future. A complete waste of time and money.

    Both Obama and Romney deserve to take some heat over their positions. If I were a one issue voter and this was my one issue, I would not vote for either one of them since I find them indistinguishable for all practical purposes.

    Delusion (none / 0) (#4)
    by Romberry on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 01:06:04 AM EST
    We may face two devils, but Obama, is by far the lesser evil and presents the lesser threat.

    That. That is delusion. Hold tightly to it and pretend its true. Both these men are a threat to the fundamental rights and freedoms we thought we had. Obama is not the lesser evil. He is the more effective evil.

    Lesser of two weasels, etc. (none / 0) (#5)
    by unitron on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 03:26:48 AM EST
    Privately, Obama probably doesn't care if people smoke a little MaryJ as long as they don't scare the horses, as the old saying used to go.

    Of course politically he can't say so.

    I just don't see him as being all that worried about your sexual and pharmaceutical recreational choices, as long as it's all consenting adults.

    Since I'm pretty sure that Romney's core belief is that he believes he'd like to be President, he may not really care either, as long as you don't inconvenience the rich, but of course in order to get elected he'll act like he cares very much what you puff on and with whom you get naked and create friction.

    The important part, though, is that along with Romney comes a political party full of people who think that they are supposed to decide your "morals" for you.

    When they can tear themselves away from trying to figure even more ways for the government to reward rich people for doing the rest of us a huge favor by being rich, those selfless humanitarians.

    I don't get that impression about Obama, (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Anne on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 08:43:27 AM EST
    at all; I think he is highly judgmental; he's had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to many of the positions he claims to now hold,  and I don't think you can lay that off entirely to the calculus of electoral politics, even if that calculus is now in play.

    As I see it, if he truly had a laissez-faire attitude about the adult use of marijuana, he would not have a virulently anti-drug head of the DEA, someone he held over from the Bush administration.  Nor would there still be in place so many Bush-appointed US Attorneys.

    Neither one of these candidates is going to bring US drug policy into the modern era, no matter how much scientific and medical support there is for it, and while Jeralyn doesn't think Obama and the Dems will be as bad, we already have a Republican-approved head of the DEA, so I'm hard-pressed to see how it could get much worse.