Commentary: Obama's message on marijuana is mixed

There were moments not so long ago when Barack Obama was signaling that he was ready to end the costly and pointless federal raids on medical marijuana users and their caretakers. In the past few years, those raids have hit Californians particularly hard.

"The Justice Department going after sick individuals using this as a palliative instead of going after serious criminals makes no sense," he said in New Hampshire last year. In 2004, he seemed to favor the decriminalization of pot altogether.

On the day Obama was elected, voters in Michigan, by a 63-37 margin, put their state in the ranks of the 12 others that have passed medical marijuana laws since California broke the ice in 1996. On the same day, Massachusetts voters approved a measure that decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot altogether. Both votes should have helped Obama to get off the fence. But recent reports that Obama was considering Rep. Jim Ramstad, a moderate Minnesota Republican who's retiring from Congress, for the post of White House drug czar, send a very different message.

Ramstad, a recovering alcoholic, has been cheered as the sponsor of laws requiring insurers to cover drug treatment and mental health services. But he also voted for federal funding bans on needle exchanges and strongly opposed measures to stop federal arrests of medical marijuana patients in states like California where its use is legal.

There are reasons for Obama, like many other politicians, to be skittish about the issue. He's acknowledged drug use in his past. He doesn't want to trip on the matter when he has countless tougher things to deal with in his first years in office.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.