(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration says it remains "firmly" opposed to the legalization of marijuana.
In a new drug strategy report released on Tuesday, the White House also said it wants to “strengthen efforts to prevent drug use in communities,” even as a growing number of states sanction "medical marijuana" outlets, which have boosted the availability of the drug.
Many hundreds of medical marijuana co-ops and dispensaries are currently operating in communities across the country, selling marijuana to anyone with a doctor’s prescription. Various Web sites list the many locations where pot is legally sold.
The proliferation of marijuana dispensaries indicates that demand is strong for such prescriptions and that those prescriptions are easy enough to obtain.
Obama: Medical marijuana not a priority
Two years ago, President Barack Obama described his approach to medical marijuana as “practical” and said he doesn’t see any difference between a doctor prescribing morphine or a doctor prescribing marijuana.
Obama, in that April 2008 interview, said he didn’t want to spend “a whole lot of political capital on the medical marijuana issue” at a time when he was trying to pass health care legislation and fight two wars. Obama also said he would not use Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on medical marijuana.
Attorney General Eric Holder also has made it clear that medical marijuana is not a priority for his Justice Department.
Visiting California on Tuesday, Holder said the Obama administration would leave medical marijuana suppliers alone as long as they comply with state law. The focus should be on the cartels that bring marijuana into the country, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Holder as saying.
As for a Nov. 2 ballot to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California, Holder told the newspaper on Tuesday, "I'm not sure that legalization, quite frankly, is necessarily the way to go."
White House releases new drug control strategy
Obama’s and Holder’s comments on marijuana contrast with the views laid out in the administration’s National Drug Control Strategy for 2010, released Tuesday by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"The number-one cause of the drug problem in the United States is our enormous demand for drugs," the 126-page report says. "Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use."
The White House drug strategy report does not address medical marijuana, but it does note that various studies "clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects, and legalization would only exacerbate these problems."
Further, the report notes that marijuana -- a first-time drug for many young people -- is "largely produced in the United States," in addition to the "metric-ton quantities" that come in through Mexico and Canada.
"Initiatives to reduce the availability of drugs cannot be focused solely on other nations,” the report says. There must be more of a “domestic focus, including community-oriented policing and innovative enforcement methods that eliminate street drug-dealing networks." (Holder, as noted above, said on Tuesday the focus should be on cartels that bring marijuana into the country.)
Last October, Holder directed federal prosecutors not to go after individual pot users who are abiding by state laws on medical marijuana.
"It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," Holder said.
To date, 14 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana. Other states are considering such laws.
Public lands, national parks, Indian reservations
The White House drug strategy aims to “eliminate” marijuana cultivation on public lands by developing the “technical capacity” to locate the fields as well as the “air-lift capability” to reach the fields, which are often hidden in forests and other remote areas.
The report released on Tuesday specifically says that drug trafficking organizations, especially those based in Mexico, are exploiting public lands and Indian reservations (particularly those in the Pacific Northwest) for marijuana cultivation.
“Often, these marijuana fields are guarded 24 hours a day by armed criminals and sometimes protected by booby traps, thereby posing a significant threat to public safety,” the report says. “In addition, significant environmental damage results from marijuana cultivators camping for extensive periods in pristine public lands and using fertilizers and other chemicals.”
The report says federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have eradicated record numbers of marijuana plants for each of the past five years. “Due to this success, many cultivators have been forced to abandon large, outdoor cannabis plots in favor of smaller, better concealed gardens and indoor cultivation.”
The report identifies California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia as the top seven states for marijuana cultivation.
“Gangs play a major role in distributing drugs and other contraband throughout the country,” the White House drug strategy report said.
It notes that Mexican drug-trafficking organizations use street and prison gangs to help distribute illegal drugs and “return the illicit proceeds” of the drug trade.
“This trade imposes enormous negative consequences on the safety, health, and security of our citizens,” the report says. “Drug trafficking and related violence, crime, and corruption clearly constitute a significant national security threat.”
The report says tribal communities “are faced with an increase in gangs engaged in the drug trade,” and it describes tribal land as “threatened territory” that is “highly susceptible to exploitation and increasingly damaged by the drug-trafficking business.”
Attorney General Holder was in California Tuesday to discuss anti-gang efforts. He stressed a “creative” approach to combating gang violence, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"We don't want to get tough on crime, we want to get smart on crime, and that necessarily means building relationships and building trust between law enforcement and the communities that law enforcement is supposed to serve," press reports quoted Holder as saying.