When Eric Holder was sworn in as Attorney General, he forcefully (and controversially) declared that America “is a nation of cowards” for the way in which we refuse to discuss race and racism in an open, direct and honest way. Perhaps this is true.
But who’s the coward now?
For several years, states have been moving toward making their own laws regarding the medicinal use of marijuana, for the basic reason that pot is an effective painkiller that has few of the side effects of the big-gun narcotic painkillers that earn pharmaceutical companies hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Pot is still an illegal narcotic under federal law, and federal law always trumps state law. Thus from the day in 2005 when Montana’s (and other states’) medical pot statute went into effect, the feds retained the option of arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana users and growers at any time. But Holder, shortly after taking office, made statements to the effect that the Obama administration would look the other way and let states regulate pot for medicinal use within their own borders. These statements were an important indication that citizens need not be concerned with federal criminal statutes regarding marijuana, as long as these citizens were abiding by state law. Thus did a small but thriving medical pot industry come about in several states, including Montana, with lawful participants feeling secure about what they were doing.
But then this past winter, federal Drug Enforcement Agents stormed a bunch of states including Montana, raiding a bunch of commercial pot greenhouses. We don’t really know what these growers were doing that led the Feds to raid them. We do know that the federal indictments are long and vague, as they were described in the news. One gets the impression that the growers who got raided were trafficking illegally both within Montana, and across state lines. But in some cases, I’ll bet that’s not true. My guess is that some of the up-and-up growers ended up sharing greenhouse space with some shady growers, and probably got caught up in the whole mess without ever having done anything wrong. But we will soon see, as these trials take place.
Also unclear is the extent to which Holder, Obama and Mike Cotter, the Obama-appointed US Attorney, were involved in the decision to invade. If a few career officers at DEA took the action without consulting upward, that would be one thing. But if Holder gave or approved the order, or if the White House or the US Attorney were involved, that would be a very strange thing given the strong statements made by Holder that states would be left make and enforce their own laws with regard to medical pot.
Last month, a new law went into effect, authored by Jeff Essman, a 2012 GOP gubernatorial candidate. This law eliminates the commercial growing of medical pot. Under the new law, it appears that patients must grow their own plants or receive their pot from charitable growers who may engage in a limited amount of non-profit growing. But the federal power over all of this is still entirely uncertain.
Even Governor Brewer, the arch conservative nut in Arizona, is demanding clarification from the feds, because she wants to implement a medicinal use law in Arizona. And last week, Holder declared that he would “soon” be “clarifying” his position on this entire issue. But as it stands now, Holder is a coward on this issue. Holder is especially a coward for having complained about people being cowards, and then acted like one himself by having said one thing but done, apparently, another. If his clarification in the coming weeks is murky–as I fear it will be–he will be even more of a coward.
[Thank you Helenan for this guest post. If you are interested in being a guest poster, contact me on the tipline - Cowgirl]