Feds' pot policy sticks with prohibition despite Obama comments about risk, advocate says

A photo of a past DEA marijuana raid in Denver. Additional images and a document below.
A photo of a past DEA marijuana raid in Denver. Additional images and a document below.

Back in January, Marijuana Policy Project spokesman and Amendment 64 advocate Mason Tvert applauded comments by President Barack Obama in which he suggested that marijuana is not as risky as alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

Nonetheless, the new National Drug Control Strategy document for 2014 (see it below) reflects little or no softening of the feds' approach to pot. And that leaves Tvert feeling frustrated.

See also: Obama's belief that pot's less risky than alcohol (sort of) is refreshing, says Mason Tvert

When asked if he blames Obama for the continued relative harshness of the feds' strategy toward cannabis, Tvert stresses that "they're totally different situations." He regards the President's remarks about marijuana, shared in an interview with the New Yorker, as demonstrating "that we're moving toward a more honest discussion of marijuana policy and that more and more people are talking openly about the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. So it was more about the sociological and cultural element of the marijuana debate.

President Barack Obama during a 2011 campaign stop in Colorado.
President Barack Obama during a 2011 campaign stop in Colorado.

"This is more about whether federal law is changing," Tvert continues. "And even when we're talking about the recent vote in the House to approve a very limited medical marijuana amendment, that's more of a development that shows how the issue is progressing" -- especially since the aforementioned amendment hasn't moved forward in weeks.

Meanwhile, Tvert argues that "our federal government is maintaining a system in which adults will be punished for using marijuana and that it will remain entirely illegal at the federal level. And there's also a matter of tone."

He uses as an example concerns raised in the report about young people and the public at large having a lower perception of harm about cannabis.

"The federal government's role has always been to make marijuana seem like it's more harmful than it actually is," he maintains. "So the lower perception of harm is actually more evidence-based, more based on facts. But they perceive that as a problem."

In Tvert's view, the report also "focuses on any potential negative that can be associated with marijuana, as opposed to the potential benefits of regulation."

Mason Tvert during a press appearance last year.
Mason Tvert during a press appearance last year.
Photo by Sam Levin

A case in point involves a passage about marijuana cultivation on public land and the potential harm to wildlife. Here's an excerpt:

Illicit marijuana cultivation threatens the wildlife inhabiting National Forests and other public lands. Information compiled by CAMP shows that in the 2013 eradication season, law enforcement officers seized 6.8 metric tons of fertilizer, 307 pounds of common pesticides, and 3.1 gallons of extremely hazardous restricted poisons from grow sites. These materials indiscriminately kill wildlife, leach into the soil, and ultimately contaminate the water table, potentially causing irreparable damage.66 In July 2013, researchers with the University of California-Davis and the Hoopa Valley Tribe found evidence that marijuana cultivators were deliberately poisoning wildlife on public lands.67 At a marijuana cultivation site, law enforcement officers discovered poisoned hot dogs hung from fishing hooks. Approximately 10 meters away, law enforcement found a dead adult male fisher, a rare forest carnivore declared a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act. A full necropsy conducted by a board-certified veterinary pathologist revealed that the animal died from acute carbamate insecticide (methomyl) poisoning associated with contaminated bait.

Previously, researchers had documented the presence of poisonous chemicals and toxicants at marijuana cultivation sites inhabited by fishers; however, the July incident was the first confirmed intentional poisoning of a fisher with an insecticide associated with a marijuana cultivation site. Researchers will continue to study the effects of marijuana cultivation on fishers. Additional research, funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is planned to determine whether rat poisons used around marijuana grow sites are responsible for the deaths of rare spotted owls.

Is marijuana really to blame for killing off an endangered species -- or is marijuana policy the real culprit? Tvert suggests that if cannabis was legalized and regulated, there'd be no reason for illegal grows on National Forest land -- "but that's a connection they either intentionally fail to make or simply overlook, which would be a sign of ignorance or negligence.

"They have no desire to examine the positive benefits of establishing a regulated market," he goes on, "and they don't express any interest in examining whether allowing adults to use marijuana as an alternative to alcohol could result in less alcohol use and fewer related problems."

He cites a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study showing that one in ten deaths among adults ages twenty to 64 are linked to excessive alcohol consumption. Despite the shocking statistics, the bureaucrats behind the drug strategy report "apparently have no interest in examining the possibility that making marijuana legal could dramatically reduce public health and public safety problems. It's astonishing."

Here's the complete document:

National Drug Control Strategy 2014

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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