Medical marijuana no longer in Federal prosecutors crosshairs

October 20th, 2009 by

WASHINGTON - Legitimate medical marijuana patients and their providers will no longer be targeted for federal prosecution if they are following state law, according to a new policy at the US Justice Department.

Andy Cookston, who owns Cannabis Medical in Denver said, “It’s good news for everybody.”

But the Colorado Attorney General says the policy is not very helpful here.

“Our law is so ill-defined that you can’t tell whether people are in compliance,” John Suthers said. He says the number of dispensaries and registered users in skyrocketing, yet Amendment 20 says nothing about dispensaries, big grow operations, or the number of patients per care giver.

The federal policy, he says, begs for action in Colorado.

“It puts the buck back on the legislature if you will. If the citizens of Colorado, if this is not what they envisioned, they don’t want a dispensary on every corner, they don’t want a bunch of 22 year olds with marijuana certifications, then its going to be up to the legislature to give some definition to this law,” Suthers said.

By the government’s count, 14 states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

California stands out among those for the widespread presence of dispensaries — businesses that sell marijuana and even advertise their services. Colorado also has several dispensaries, and Rhode Island and New Mexico are in the process of licensing providers, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that promotes the decriminalization of marijuana use.

Advocates say marijuana is effective in treating chronic pain and nausea, among other ailments.

Holder said in March that he wanted federal law enforcement officials to pursue those who violate both federal and state law, but it has not been clear how that goal would be put into practice.

The memo spelling out the policy was sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.

The memo written by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.

“This is a major step forward,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality.”

At the same time, officials said, the government will still prosecute those who use medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity.

In particular, the memo urges prosecutors to pursue marijuana cases which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes.

And while the policy memo describes a change in priorities away from prosecuting medical marijuana cases, it does not rule out the possibility that the federal government could still prosecute someone whose activities are allowed under state law.

The memo, officials said, is designed to give a sense of prosecutorial priorities to U.S. attorneys in the states that allow medical marijuana. It notes that pot sales in the United States are the largest source of money for violent Mexican drug cartels, but adds that federal law enforcement agencies have limited resources.

Medical marijuana advocates have been anxious to see exactly how the administration would implement candidate Barack Obama’s repeated promises to change the policy in situations in which state laws allow the use of medical marijuana.

Soon after Obama took office, DEA agents raided four dispensaries in Los Angeles, prompting confusion about the


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