Repub­li­cans on edge of cam­paigns waver on pot

Po­ten­tial 2016 hope­fuls stay united against Obama’s pol­icy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls are united in blast­ing Pres­i­dent Obama for his chaotic en­force­ment of mar­i­juana laws, but the unity quickly breaks down when they are asked how they would han­dle things if they were in the White House.

Some have sent mixed sig­nals, say­ing state de­ci­sions should be re­spected while ques­tion­ing how Mr. Obama has re­spected those de­ci­sions. Oth­ers have re­fused to say how they would wield the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy against mar­i­juana.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal is one of the few po­ten­tial can­di­dates to take a firm stance, say­ing he would in­sist on fol­low­ing fed­eral statutes that out­law the drug.

“I don’t think you can ig­nore fed­eral law,” Mr. Jin­dal told ra­dio talk show host Hugh He­witt, who asked whether the gover­nor would “bring the ham­mer” down on pot stores in states with le­gal­iza­tion laws. “Fed­eral law is still the law of the land. It still needs to be en­forced.”

The con­fu­sion stems from the con­flict be­tween fed­eral law, which clas­si­fies mar­i­juana as a Sched­ule I drug on par with heroin and LSD, and states where pot has been le­gal­ized for medic­i­nal use or, in a grow­ing num­ber of states, where it has been ap­proved for recre­ational use.

Twenty-three states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Alaska, Ore­gon and the Dis­trict also have fol­lowed in the foot­steps of Colorado and Wash­ing­ton by al­low­ing recre­ational use of the drug. Sev­eral other states, such as Cal­i­for­nia, Maine, Ari­zona and Ne­vada, which hosts an early pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion con­test, are head­ing in a sim­i­lar di­rec­tion.

Mr. Obama and Congress have tried to grap­ple with the is­sue. Capitol Hill took a first step to­ward le­niency last year by pass­ing a spend­ing bill pro­hibit­ing fed­eral agents from tar­get­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries for raids, though the crim­i­nal laws re­main on the books.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has is­sued sev­eral memos lay­ing out drug en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties that or­der agents to gen­er­ally ig­nore states that are try­ing to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana, say­ing fed­eral law en­force­ment should fo­cus on eight spe­cific ar­eas such as stop­ping the dis­tri­bu­tion of the drug to mi­nors and fight­ing gangs and car­tels that try to traf­fic in pot.

The pres­i­dent has said his ac­tions on mar­i­juana en­force­ment are sim­i­lar to those he took on Oba­macare and im­mi­gra­tion, in which he claimed use of pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion to grant tem­po­rary amnesty to law­break­ers.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s moves have drawn fire from Repub­li­cans who want to suc­ceed Mr. Obama.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Repub­li­can who an­nounced his can­di­dacy last month, has said it is the pre­rog­a­tive and right of states such as Colorado and Wash­ing­ton to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana.

But the con­ser­va­tive fire­brand also has ac­cused Mr. Obama of set­ting a danger­ous prece­dent by cur­tail­ing en­force­ment of fed­eral laws in those states.

“Any­one who is con­cerned about lib­erty should be con­cerned about the no­tion that this pres­i­dent, over and over again, has as­serted the right to pick and choose what laws to fol­low. That is fun­da­men­tally danger­ous to the lib­erty of the peo­ple,” Mr. Cruz said last year in an in­ter­view with Rea­son, a lib­er­tar­ian mag­a­zine. “What rule of law means is that we are a na­tion of laws, not of men, that no man is above the law — es­pe­cially not the pres­i­dent.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cruz did not re­spond to a re­quest seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion on his stance, nor did rep­re­sen­ta­tives for for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia and for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie de­clined to com­ment.

Paul Armentano, deputy direc­tor of the pro-le­gal­iza­tion group NORML, said he sus­pects the Repub­li­can can­di­dates are trapped be­tween their own be­liefs and those of pri­mary vot­ers.

“Th­ese can­di­dates no doubt un­der­stand that the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans sup­port reg­u­la­tory al­ter­na­tives to prohibition and are try­ing to ap­peal to them while, at that same time, try­ing to avoid ag­i­tat­ing their more so­cially con­ser­va­tive base,” Mr. Armentano said. “Know­ing that mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion out­polled both pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in 2012, th­ese GOP hope­fuls ar­guably ought to be more con­cerned with po­si­tion­ing them­selves to be on the right side of his­tory rather than on try­ing to ap­pease a vo­cal mi­nor­ity that is woe­fully out of touch with both chang­ing public and sci­en­tific opin­ion.”

For­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ac­knowl­edged in an in­ter­view last year that he is torn on the is­sue.

“I think that states ought to have a right to de­cide th­ese things. I think the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s role in our lives is way too over­reach­ing,” Mr. Bush told the Miami Her­ald. “But hav­ing said that, if you’re in Colorado and you can pur­chase mar­i­juana openly, should peo­ple in Wy­oming not be con­cerned about that? And I think there, maybe, the fed­eral law needs to be looked at — in­ter­state com­merce.”

Lucy Nashed, a spokes­woman for for­mer Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said her boss “be­lieves this is a de­ci­sion for the states.” Asked to clar­ify how Mr. Perry would use fed­eral pow­ers if he be­comes pres­i­dent, Ms. Nashed gave the same an­swer.

A spokes­woman for Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida sug­gested he would use dis­cre­tion in en­forc­ing the law.

“Sen. Ru­bio be­lieves le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana for recre­ational use is a bad idea,” said Ru­bio spokes­woman Brooke Sammon. “Of course, states can make de­ci­sions about what laws they wish to ap­ply within their own bor­ders, but the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has its own in­ter­ests to vig­or­ously pros­e­cute traf­fick­ing in il­le­gal drugs, in­clud­ing mar­i­juana.”

Ash­Lee Strong, press sec­re­tary for Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker’s Our Amer­i­can Re­vival po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, said: “There are cur­rently fed­eral laws on the books that must be en­forced, but ul­ti­mately he be­lieves the best place to han­dle this is­sue is in the states.”

Sen. Rand Paul has been the most out­spo­ken sup­porter of le­gal­iza­tion among the po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial field, call­ing for re­duced penal­ties for mar­i­juana of­fenses and tak­ing a lead role in a bi­par­ti­san push to lift fed­eral re­stric­tions on med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

The Ken­tucky Repub­li­can has cast Mr. Bush as a hyp­ocrite for ad­mit­ting mar­i­juana use while a stu­dent but op­pos­ing a med­i­cal mar­i­juana bal­lot ini­tia­tive last year in Florida, which failed to pass.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal is one of the few po­ten­tial can­di­dates to take a firm stance, say­ing he would in­sist on fol­low­ing fed­eral statutes that out­law the drug. “I don’t think you can ig­nore fed­eral law,” Mr. Jin­dal told ra­dio talk show host Hugh He­witt, who asked whether the gover­nor would “bring the ham­mer” down on pot stores in states with le­gal­iza­tion laws. “Fed­eral law is still the law of the land. It still needs to be en­forced.”

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