WASHINGTON, DC — Four years after enthusiastically supporting Barack Obama, marijuana supporters and activists are closing their checkbooks to the president’s re-election bid.
The reason: Anger over the Obama Justice Department’s crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries after Obama himself promised in the 2008 campaign that he would not use federal “resources to circumvent state laws on this issue.”
“We’re all bummed out about it,” said Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML.
Gieringer donated $2,300 to Obama in 2008. This year, Gieringer won’t give Obama a dime, much less vote for him.
“If not for this issue, who to vote for would be a no-brainer,” said Amanda Reiman, California policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The medical marijuana community was ecstatic when Obama was elected but now four years later, it feels like bait and switch.”
Steve DeAngelo, whose Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif., was targeted for closure last July by U.S. attorney Melinda Haag, said that although he gave $500 to Obama in 2008 and got about 10 friends and family members to donate the same or more, he’s not contributing this year and may not vote for him.
“It’s hard for me to vote for someone who thinks I’m a criminal,” he said.
Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher declined to comment.
Quantifying the dollar value of medical marijuana donations to the Obama campaign is difficult, but the 2008 total was likely to have been in the millions. The total this year appears to be substantially less.
Four years ago dispensaries were blossoming in California and other states such as Colorado. The business got a shot in the arm in 2009 when a Justice Department directive to U.S. attorneys reiterated Obama’s campaign statement, telling them not to prioritize cases in which medical marijuana providers were acting in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state law.
But the prospect of a strengthening political and financial juggernaut – Big Pot – was dashed last year when a subsequent Justice Department memo accused the industry of being more concerned with profits than serving medical patients.
Since that second directive was issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in June 2011, U.S. attorneys have written letters to landlords ordering them to cancel leases with dispensaries, the IRS has told operators they can’t take normal business deductions, and banks under pressure from Washington have closed dispensary accounts.
At their height before the crackdown, medical marijuana dispensaries in California employed approximately 20,000 people and paid $125 million in taxes on revenues of a billion or more, said George Mull, a Sacramento lawyer who heads the California Cannabis Association. Of the 1,000 or so dispensaries, only 400 to 500 remain open, Mull said.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has made no secret of his antipathy to marijuana. GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said states should decide the issue for themselves, but campaign operatives subsequently insisted Ryan agrees with Romney that marijuana should remain illegal.
Romney’s position leads some advocates and entrepreneurs to see Obama as the lesser of two evils.
“People who care about medical marijuana are torn between disappointment and disaster,” said Ethan Nadelmann, New York-based director of the Drug Policy Alliance.