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In the Phoenix; and Chafee on Civil Disobedience

I've got a cover story in today's Phoenix about Rhode Island's tricky shift to what I call Medical Marijuana 2.0.

After a threatened federal crackdown, Governor Lincoln Chafee put the kibosh on three planned pot dispensaries in September. Since then, medical marijuana advocates have been trying to figure out the shape of the next phase - and it's just started to come together in recent days. Read the piece to get a sense for what might come - and what it all means.

I spoke with the governor, briefly, for this piece. And I pursued one line of questioning that didn't make it into the story - it's a bit retrospective - but is of interest, I think. Pot advocates have often wondered why the governor stood up to the federal government in one case - refusing to turn over murder suspect Jason Pleau because he would be exposed to the death penalty - but declined to defy the Obama Administration on the dispensaries.

I put the question to Chafee and he said the difference between the two cases was this: the feds asked him to turn over Pleau (and as his top lawyer Claire Richards told me, the administration saw a legal avenue for refusing the request - an avenue that the federal government, of course, disputes). Federal authorities were not so solicitous on medical marijuana, he noted, with US Attorney Peter Neronha stating flatly that he would crack down on the dispensaries if they opened.

Whether Neronha would actually follow through on such a threat is a matter of debate: medical marijuana is quite popular with the public, after all, and his boss in the White House has political considerations to weigh. But his answer brought another question, which I posed to him: is there ever a time when a governor should openly defy federal threats, even if there is no plausible legal avenue for doing so?

"Good question," he said. "I think you have to take them as they come and evaluate the potential consequences." In this case, he said, Neronha was threatening to go after dispensaries' lenders and landlords, in addition to the dispensaries themselves. "I didn't think it was worth proceeding," he said.

The answer dovetailed with a broader statement he made when he announced plans to block the dispensaries: a crackdown wouldn't be good for anyone, including patients.

It was an interesting chat I had with Chafee. The governor's supporters would say it spoke to his prudence, his practical case-by-case approach to governance. Critics might suggest a timidity, a failure of leadership. I'll let the reader decide.

I also want to point, here, to a new story by my Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein. David takes a look at a significant shift in reporting on presidential campaigns. Gone are the days of the "Boys on the Bus," when local papers all over the country sent reporters on the campaign trail. In their place: a swarm of scribes from the niche political media. Think Politico, Real Clear Politics, and the National Journal. This has meant more in the way of process stories, Bernstein argues - campaign strategy shifts, stump speech tweaks and the like - and less on the issues. Is it as bad as it sounds? I recommend a read.

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