"There's no question that Obama's the worst president on medical marijuana," Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "He's gone from first to worst."
Some believe Obama's tough-on-pot stance suggests the feds might stop Washington and Colorado from setting up legal sales. After all, the initiatives don't even offer any pretense about medicating cancer. They simply make it legal to buy pot from a licensed distributor, then light up.
"Once these states actually try to implement these laws, we will see an effort by the feds to shut it down," Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy adviser to the president, told NBC News. "We can only guess now what exactly that would look like. But the recent U.S. attorney actions against medical marijuana portends an aggressive effort to stop state-sponsored growing and selling at the outset."
NO 'MAJOR CRACKDOWN'
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the backers of the Washington and Colorado initiatives are more optimistic. Their message, which I heard versions of in three interviews, boiled down to this: There hasn't actually been a national crackdown on medical marijuana, and with the right steps, there might not be a crackdown on commercial marijuana, either.
In this telling, the recent flurry of raids and prosecutions against cannabis providers is not a sign that the administration intends to smother the medical marijuana industry in its cradle. Instead, it's been a response to the rapid growth of dispensaries in states like California, where ambiguous weed law leads to abuses.
"The federal government could go in and arrest everybody and indict everybody for distributing marijuana," said Alison Holcomb, the campaign director for New Approach Washington, which steered its state's legalization initiative. "They're not doing that."
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CALIFORNIA AND COLORADO
On paper at least, there have been two major turning points in the Obama administration's medical marijuana policy. In October of 2009, Deputy Attorney General James Ogden issued a memo stating that prosecutors should not spend time and resources hunting after medical marijuana patients or their "caregivers," as long as they stayed "in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws." For growers and dispensaries, this was seen as a green light to do business.
Even after the Ogden memo, there were still dozens of raids in Colorado, California, Michigan, Montana, and Nevada. Federal prosecutors sent letters to the governors of New Jersey and Washington advising them that state employees could end up in legal trouble just for giving licenses to medical marijuana businesses.
But the big pivot, the one that set the pro-pot community on edge, didn't come until June 2011, when Justice released a new memo that narrowed the definition of "caregiver." The new definition only applied to individuals, and excluded "commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana." The Huffington Post's Ryan Grimm called it a "warning shot to medical marijuana shops," and the following months seemed to prove him right. The raids intensified, and other agencies, including the IRS, jumped into the fray.