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Blowing Smoke: Obama Promises One Thing, Does Another On Medical Marijuana

Publication Date: 
April 06, 2011
SF Weekly
Chris Roberts

Professor Robert Weisberg spoke with Chris Roberts in SF Weekly on how the Controlled Substance Act has become harder to understand due to a memo penned by Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden.

That familiar odor wafting from San Francisco street corners, storefronts, and the neighborhood growhouse? It's the smell of legality. Medical cannabis is the law of the land in California, 14 other states, and the District of Columbia. Yet, as many marijuana users will tell you, protection under state law hasn't guaranteed protection under federal law at all.

It was more obvious under the George W. Bush administration, which pledged to "ignore" state medical marijuana laws and go after marijuana users. For eight years, the federal government "subverted" the will of the states, according to the ACLU, and in the process ignored the Constitution's guarantees of state sovereignty, as many a pot user has tried to argue in court.


But what about Holder's statements prior to the Feil raid, and what about the memo prior to the raids on Margolin's clients? In Northern California at least, Russoniello "completely ignored the memo, I'm sure," says Peter Keane, a former defense attorney and dean emeritus of Golden Gate University's law school. Elsewhere, even with Holder — the pot-friendliest attorney general yet — in charge, the Ogden memo meant squat. "It's absolutely worthless" in court, says Stanford law professor Robert Weisberg. But not entirely ineffective: "The federal government made the Controlled Substances Act harder to understand when it chose to publicize the Ogden memo," he adds. "And it created a feeling." Namely: The feds don't care about busting pot in California. Which, the feds will tell you when you ask, isn't the case at all.