President Obama’s Justice Department Issues Medical Marijuana Guidance to U.S. Attorneys

Press Release July 5, 2011
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6430</p>

The following is a statement from Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

"The U.S. Justice Department's (DoJ) medical marijuana guidance to U.S. Attorneys, issued by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole last week, raises more questions than it answers. The Department's 2009 Ogden memorandum established guidance that federal resources should not be employed to target medical marijuana patients and providers who are in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state-based medical marijuana laws. Last week's so-called clarification is in fact open to many interpretations and falls far short of the explanation of policy that state lawmakers, members of Congress and advocates sought.

"The Cole memorandum reiterates much of the guidance provided in the Ogden memo, including that all medical marijuana offenses are illegal under federal law but that the Justice Department will prioritize enforcement so as not to waste resources. It clearly states that large-scale, commercial medical marijuana providers are proper targets for federal enforcement, even if they are in compliance with the state law. The guidance does not address smaller medical marijuana providers widely believed to be protected by the Odgen memo. In fact, the Cole memo explicitly tells U.S. Attorneys to refer to the Odgen memo for guidance on enforcing federal marijuana laws, suggesting that the Department of Justice may likely only target large operations, leaving small operations to the states to regulate. The new memo, however, does not provide guidance on what the federal government considers to be the line between small and large-scale production.

"It is worth noting that, regardless of federal policy, states can legalize marijuana for medical use and license and control providers. State officials who await blanket federal endorsement of medical marijuana or blame the federal government for their own failure to act are compromising the health and well being of their citizens while failing to implement in good faith the laws of their state.   With regard to concerns about prosecution of state employees, which some state policymakers have expressed, the federal government has never sought to prosecute any state employee for licensing or otherwise regulating medical marijuana providers.  In fact, we know of no instance in recent times in which state officials were personally prosecuted for implementing any state law. It is something that is just not done.

"The Obama Administration missed a huge opportunity to ease the state/federal conflict over medical marijuana and pave the way for responsible regulation in 16 states and the District of Columbia, home to 90 million Americans. By issuing vague guidance, the Obama Administration is sowing confusion and doing voters, state policymakers, and medical marijuana patients a disservice.  The Administration needs to be clear in its support of responsible state and local regulations designed to make marijuana legally available to patients while enhancing public safety and health.  If the federal government is unable to provide leadership in this area, then the very least it can do is get out of the way and allow citizens to determine the policies that best serve local interests."

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