Earlier this year, the Obama administration offered a live-and-let-live approach to medical marijuana providers, so long as they complied with state laws.
As one Obama administration official told the Los Angeles Times in March:
"If you are operating a medical marijuana clinic that is actually a front, we'll come after you. But if you are operating within the law, we are not going to prioritize our resources to go after them."
Since then, marijuana activists in California have been hoping for signs that the administration will move beyond tolerating medical marijuana and consider a major policy overhaul.
Those hopes were revived last week when the head of the White House’s office of national drug control policy, Gil Kerlikowske, offered seemingly friendly words for California’s medical-marijuana laws.
Kerlikowske was in California to announce a crackdown on huge commercial pot farms in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Fresno.
While warning of the dangers posed by illegal pot cultivation on public lands, Kerlikowske seemed to take a different line on medical marijuana.
The Sacramento Bee reported Kerlikowske “pointed to how state and local jurisdictions have dealt with the state's legalization of medical marijuana, saying they are ‘doing a really good job of licensing, land use, those kind of regulations.’ ”
Was America’s drug czar supporting the regulation of medical marijuana California-style, and hinting at a broader policy shift toward pot?
Perhaps, thought Dale Gieringer, head of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“This is the first time the feds have indicated such support. Could it bode an auspicious shift in federal policy?” Gieringer mused. “Are the feds ready to change the law so as to support, rather than undermine local control of marijuana? Let's hope so.”
But federal drug officials were quick to suggest otherwise.
“There is no policy change here,” said one federal drug official who closely followed Kerlikowske’s visit to California.
More likely, the official said the drug czar was pointing to communities in California that have cracked down on medical-marijuana dispensaries, in the hope that others will follow. The office of national drug control policy website lists 208 cities and counties in California that have imposed moratoria or bans on medical-marijuana dispensaries.