Pubdate: Mon, 01 Oct 2012
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
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 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, California 
coordinator for the 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 was 
selected for closure in 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.

Fewer donations this year

Quantifying the dollar value of medical marijuana donations to the 
Obama campaign is difficult, but the 2008 total was probably 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 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 raids, dispensaries employed about 20,000 
people and paid $125 million in taxes on revenue of $1 billion or 
more, said George Mull, a Sacramento lawyer who heads the California 
Cannabis Association. Of the 1,000 or so outlets, only 400 to 500 
remain open, he said.

Displeasure among cannabis entrepreneurs is almost certainly not 
enough to dent the president's campaign fund or keep California's 
whopping 55 electoral votes from the Obama column on election day.

But Colorado is a battleground state. With Libertarian candidate Gary 
Johnson - who supports marijuana legalization - polling in the 4 to 6 
percent range, the marijuana vote could make a difference.

"Comparing us to drug dealers is insulting, upsetting and wrong," 
said Wanda James, who closed her Denver marijuana edibles business 
and laid off 20 employees in August when she lost her bank account.

No support from Romney

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 of New York, 
director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom