High on Romney

Will cannabis advocates cast a protest vote?

Patients, dispensary owners and pretty much anyone else who regularly turns to medical marijuana seems to feel burned by President Barack Obama. Their beef? Obama stated during his presidential campaign four years ago that he’d more or less take a hands-off approach to regulating medical cannabis in states where it was legal.

But as it turns out, hands-off apparently meant the dismantling and criminalization of the California medical-cannabis industry. Marijuana advocates are blazing mad, and many argue Obama’s federal policy has been worse than that of his predecessor, President George W. Bush. But is it enough to turn them against Obama and vote for, say, Mitt Romney or Ron Paul?

Cannabis experts agree that Obama’s pot policy will at the very least impact his re-election efforts.

“While Obama is definitely the worst president by far when it comes to respecting medical marijuana,” argued Morgan Fox with Washington, D.C.,-based Marijuana Policy Project, “it’s arguable that Romney could be worse.”

Fox reminded that, unlike Obama, Romney does not even believe in cannabis’ efficacy. “He does not see it as medicine,” he said.

It’s also true that Romney, who claims to have never tried marijuana, has said very little that would hint at the scope of his cannabis policy. But according to Fox, his limited statements on marijuana “have all been resoundingly negative.”

And “Massachusetts is obviously not a medical-marijuana state,” noted Kris Hermes, with California-based medical-cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

“But I can’t see a tremendous difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on this issue,” he said. “They’re both toeing the drug-war line.”

This comes as a surprise to many. In 2008, Obama stated on the campaign trail that he would not “use justice department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.”

But then in October of last year, the U.S. attorneys in California began a new phase in the federal crackdown on medical cannabis. In the April 25 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Obama defended this ratcheted-up crackdown on Golden State dispensaries and cultivators.

The president told Rolling Stone: “I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana—and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.’”

“That’s not good enough,” Hermes said. “We need a public-health policy around medical marijuana.”

MPP’s Fox says that he thinks some who voted for Obama in ’08 will vote for Paul or Gary Johnson as some kind of protest vote. He also thinks Obama will struggle with youth turnout and 420-friendly donors.

“Obama’s marijuana policies,” Fox concluded, “are going to hurt his chances.”