Pubdate: Sat, 29 Sep 2012
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2012 Hearst Newspapers
Author: Dan Freedman


WASHINGTON - Four years after enthusiastically supporting Barack 
Obama, marijuana entrepreneurs and advocates 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   National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom