A letter to President Obama

The crackdown on medical-cannabis dispensaries is a mistake, sir

This week I’m turning over my column to Jeff vonKaenel, president and CEO of the News & Review papers. This letter appears in the current issue of the Sacramento News & Review.
—Robert Speer

Dear President Obama,

Two years ago, you said your administration would not go after dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use. But last Friday (Oct. 7), your U.S. Department of Justice attorneys announced a crackdown on medical-marijuana dispensaries and cultivators in California. In addition, they questioned the right of local jurisdictions to regulate this growing industry. I believe that this shift in policy will do significantly more harm than good.

Specifically, I’m concerned about the economic impact of this decision. Closing California’s dispensaries could jeopardize thousands of jobs. Not just those that are directly linked to medical marijuana, but also physicians, security guards, solar-panel specialists, delivery drivers, lab techs, marketing specialists, attorneys, insurance agents, specialized government jobs, media jobs and many others. Local TV, radio, online and print media including The Sacramento Bee, the Business Journal and especially (full disclosure) the Sacramento News & Review have been helped by medical-marijuana advertising dollars. And the money that’s pumped into the local economy by these dispensaries is spent on rent, groceries and at local restaurants and retail stores.

One of the worst consequences of this crackdown could be to drive this industry back underground. The biggest beneficiary of this would be Mexican drug cartels. An unregulated underground drug trade would potentially leave about a million Californians who now use medical marijuana with nowhere to turn but an illegal drug dealer on the corner.

Medical marijuana is one of the few sectors of the economy that are growing during these difficult economic times. Our state Board of Equalization estimates that medical-marijuana dispensaries have annual revenues of up to $1.3 billion and produce sales taxes of as much as $105 million. Legal dispensaries can be regulated and taxed. Illegal drug cartels can’t. Rather than using government dollars to close down medical-marijuana dispensaries that are operating legally within California state law, let’s allow California to regulate and tax them. It’s change we can believe in.

Just as prohibition of alcohol did not work, prohibition of marijuana will not work. The prosecution of medical-marijuana dispensaries has worse consequences than the use and possible misuse of marijuana. If anyone should know that, it should be you. If our country’s marijuana laws were strictly enforced, you might have served time in a cell along with our past two presidents, rather than serving our country in the White House. I humbly suggest our U.S. attorneys have much more important things to do than cracking down on medical-marijuana dispensaries. Might I suggest looking at banking and securities fraud, for example?

One of your strongest supporters who is baffled by your recent shift in policy,

Jeff vonKaenel