Attorney General Confirms End to Bush Policy on Medical Marijuana

Press Release March 17, 2009
Media Contact

Stephen Gutwillig at (323) 542-2606 or Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384

The Obama Administration has fulfilled a campaign pledge and taken an important step to protect patients in the 13 states with medical marijuana laws. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that federal agents will only target marijuana distributors that violate both federal and state law — a significant departure from the Bush administration, which aggressively targeted dispensaries in California that complied with state law.

“Under the Obama Administration, the federal government may finally be recovering from a long bout with ‘reefer madness,'” said Stephen Gutwillig, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “During the campaign, President Obama signaled his intention to use a public health approach to drug policy in general. Medical marijuana is the perfect opportunity to illustrate that sensible new posture, and the administration has now taken a big step toward protecting millions of Americans who benefit from the medicinal properties of marijuana.”

The Bush administration’s Drug Enforcement Administration unleashed hundreds of commando-style raids that intimidated and terrorized patients, providers, and caregivers, while undermining the capacity of California to defend its popular medical marijuana law enacted in 1996. That administration sabotaged and interfered with state run medical marijuana programs at every turn. It pursued a policy of targeted enforcement of federal law in medical marijuana states, threatening and selectively using arrests and criminal prosecutions to intimidate patients and state officials in an effort to cripple legitimate state medical marijuana programs.

“Attorney General Holder leaves no doubt that the Obama Justice Department is departing from the medical marijuana policies of its predecessors, effectively acknowledging for the first time that the federal government will defer to the states in the enforcement of these laws,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “He made clear that medical marijuana dispensaries operating legally under state law will no longer be targeted, and his comments suggested that the DEA would be held to a much higher standard when it chooses to go after operators of such dispensaries. President Obama appears to be making good on the comments regarding drug policy that he made as a candidate — regarding federal support for needle exchange, repeal of the crack/powder disparity in mandatory minimum drug laws, and now on medical marijuana.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.