Are Conflicting Comments by Obama on Marijuana Policy Undermining Law Enforcement’s Drug War?
By Joseph Kripp, consultant with American Military University and
Leischen Stelter, member of the public safety team at American Military University
The debate concerning the legalization of marijuana has taken a new turn in recent months with 20 states now approving the use of marijuana for medicinal uses, and two others (Washington and Colorado) approving it for recreational use in small amounts. These are interesting times for law enforcement agencies, especially considering there are still federal statutes prohibiting marijuana use and possession under Title 21 USC Controlled Substances Act.
Many law enforcement professionals across the country are concerned with this growing change because many have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects marijuana and other illegal substances have had in their own states and locales throughout the years. Marijuana is considered by many to be a gateway drug that can lead users down a path of expanded use of harder drugs, especially when young people are exposed to it at an early age.
Currently, the federal administration upholds that marijuana has no scientifically proven medical value. However, they have acknowledged that marijuana produces some chemicals with medical benefits, but that it should not be taken in isolation, by smoking, vaporizing, and/or ingesting its plant material. In addition, because of marijuana’s popularity as a recreational intoxicant, many believe it demonstrates a high propensity for potential abuse.
A Challenging New World for Law Enforcement
The existing new state laws of decriminalizing medicinal marijuana and legitimatizing its recreational use have put law enforcement officials at both the state and federal levels in a dubious position. Many officers are conflicted about how to perform their duties in light of these changes, especially since federal law continues to prohibit the use and possession of marijuana nationwide.
Many from the law enforcement community feel that the parties pushing this legislative agenda are doing so without truly considering all the existing scientific data that spell out the public health and abuse risks that such new initiatives can pose within communities.
In a recent highly publicized interview with President Obama, an article in The New Yorker Magazine highlighted these contrasts and challenges. Comments by the President created a public stir of emotion because they were in apparent conflict with his administration’s own drug control strategy policy.
In summary, the President remarked that he didn’t think marijuana was any more dangerous than alcohol. He also said that when he smoked marijuana as a teenager it had no major impacts on his health, although he does view it as a bad habit and a vice—one not very different from cigarette smoking.
These are definitely enlightening comments from the Chief Executive, who oversees the nation’s enforcement of drug control policy, and were construed by many in the law enforcement community as a slap in the face.
Many feel his comments undermined their many years of labor and sacrifices to enforce the existing national drug control policy strategies geared toward marijuana. This sentiment was publicly addressed in rebuttal comments made by officials who attended a recent Major Counties Sheriff’s Association meeting. These public officials expressed shock and disbelief about the President’s contradictory public comments made in the New Yorker article.
Even former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who is now a staunch mental healthcare advocate, pushed back on the President’s marijuana comments indicating his own dismay over the contradictory statements the President made. Mr. Kennedy renewed his stance as to the dangers of marijuana use, especially for young people.
He also went on to argue that marijuana used today is far more potent than when the President used it. Studies indicate that today’s marijuana has more than three times the amount of the active ingredient, THC, than when the President smoked it as a teenager. This data makes an argument that today’s marijuana can be a far greater health and abuse risk for users.
Although there is currently limited research data as to the risks of purely recreational use of marijuana—because these laws were just enacted in Washington and Colorado—there is still a plethora of data that spells out the dangers and consequences of marijuana use and abuse.
There is currently much debate circulating about the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana and the future effects of this shift in our national drug policy. So much so, that Chairman Mica, of the House Congressional Oversight Sub-Committee on Government Operations has taken up the mantle to conduct public hearings on it.
The next couple of months should be very interesting, especially if panel witnesses come to the table willing and able to have open discussions on the matter. Their discussions could have a dramatic impact on the future of our drug control strategies, which in turn could directly and indirectly impact the direction of law enforcement, public health, as well as private security sector professionals about their future job responsibilities.
About the Authors: Joseph Kripp has more than 30 years in law enforcement, working in both the local and federal law enforcement arenas. He spent the last 24 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a criminal investigator, where he progressed to a position as Supervisory Special Agent with a specialization in the management of technical surveillance and security operational programs. Joseph holds a BS in Criminal Justice and a MA in Security Management (Honors). He is currently a consultant with American Military University (AMU) in the strategic initiative, private security sector.
Leischen Stelter is a former managing editor with a business publication specializing in the physical security industry. She currently works with the public safety outreach team at American Military University writing articles about issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, national security, emergency and disaster management and fire services.